The Myth of the Broken Flower
I’ve just recently started watching the show Jane the Virgin – a humorous, dramatic comedy following a 23 year old virgin who is accidentally artificially inseminated. This show triggered the topic for this article because Jane’s motivation for abstaining from sex before marriage was all instilled in her by her very pious grandmother. As a little girl, Jane’s grandmother hands her a beautiful white flower and tells her to crumple it up in her hands. She then prompts her to put the flower back together, which isn’t entirely possible. She uses this flower to represent what would happen to Jane if she were to lose her virginity. Now every time Jane thinks about “doing the deed” with a man she is in relationship with, she is confronted with the horrific image of the crumpled and broken flower.
This metaphor is not alone in spreading this message to women. Other abstinence messages that speakers promote in sex education in public schools all around the country liken losing your virginity to being a used piece of gum, being tape that has lost its stickiness, or being a worn pair of tennis shoes.
There’s More to Life than the First Time
Now there are several reasons why these analogies can be so damaging to one trying to understand the power of sexuality. But the striking common denominator of these widely circulated symbols for losing your virginity is that they attach the power and beauty of sex to the exclusive act of the “first time.” They communicate to you that once you’ve handed over your “flower”, you somehow lose a part of what made you beautiful and desirable. And the logic that follows states that with every time you engage sexually, you lose more.
But I’m going to tell you the truth about sex and losing your virginity: if you choose to engage sexually with a partner, even within the context of marriage, you will inevitably be “deflowered”… *Gasp*
The message those analogies teach us is that the finish line – the moment that all your energy should be directed towards protecting – is your first time. And that, if you end up at the finish line too early, you’ve lost the potential for a thriving sex life. But in my opinion, it’s not the timing that’s crucial. It’s the understanding that every time you are intimate with someone it is a powerful and connective experience. Having sex in one wrong context, doesn’t ruin your ability to express it in another. In fact, I believe that even your sexual intimacy with a spouse is designed to grow and become even more enjoyable and exciting. Even if you have sex before marriage, it doesn’t sabotage your chances to experience the joys of sex in the future.
These analogies promise us a perfect, fairytale-like first time if we just wait for the signed contract. But the reality is, many virgins who hold out and rest all their expectations and fantasies on the wedding night are actually disappointed with their first sexual encounter. Because the singular experience often doesn’t live up to hype. Growing up with a Christian perspective of sex I feel that on some level I was taught that saving sex for marriage was an ultimatum you use on God. That there was this “virginity clause” that says if you wait, God will bless you with great sex and a successful marriage. And much to the surprise of my equally virgin husband and I, our honeymoon did not quite go as expected.
I had to learn that your first time with your partner likely isn’t going to be the ‘“best” sex you will have in your life. To be candid, it can often be painful for women, and it can be a bit nerve wracking for both participants as they learn to navigate the different movements and find good rhythm and physical chemistry with their partner. This doesn’t mean that our first time wasn’t a beautiful beginning to our sexual relationship, but it was just that – a beginning. Not the pinnacle!
But why am I being so painfully vulnerable with you about my first sexual encounter? Because I think it’s important that we’re honest in how we inform people about sex so that they can have appropriate expectations and make uncoerced decisions instead of manipulating people with grandiose ideas of marital sex and making them feel faulty when it doesn’t stand up to the promises. I also want to encourage people who may feel that they will be punished for their lack of virginity that their sexuality is still precious and significant. And for the record, I don’t regret remaining abstinent. Abstinence has multiple potential benefits, such as less sexual (or emotional) baggage from past relationships, getting to share your first time with the same person you’ll share everything with, less risk of STIs or pregnancy out of wedlock. And those things may or may not be a motivation for you. But just like everything in life, sex and marriage are hard work. The sad truth is that many Christian virgins who dedicate so much effort towards abstaining from sex during the dating relationship don’t realize they have to dedicate just as much into building the sexual aspects, as well as all other aspects, of the relationship during the marriage.
With Great Sexuality Comes Great Responsibility
Managing your sex drive takes a ton of effort and awareness because it’s such a powerful gift. Even if you’re married or in a monogamous relationship, you’re still responsible to fight for and cultivate your sexuality in healthy ways. Every time that my husband and I abstained from being sexual before we were married, we reminded ourselves of the worth our sexual intimacy would have over our lifetime; and how priceless and beautiful that opportunity was. We were able to protect that decision because we had set that boundary for ourselves. If we had relied on external motivation to dictate our sexual choices, we would probably wouldn’t have accomplished our goal.
Now the ritualistic confines for sealing a covenant are cultural, so developing a proper view of sex and how it should be experienced, in marriage or out of marriage, is really something you have to evaluate for yourself. You need to find your own vision. I found mine in the image of the future children I would have some day. I imagined one day talking to them about the beauty of their sexuality and how they would be able to share it with someone they wanted to commit themselves to. I imagined the pride I would feel knowing that I was powerful enough to follow through with the choice I made and to stick to it even when it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t just about “sex,” it was about my own sense of responsibility, honor, and self-discipline.
Divorcing Shame from Sex — Forever
Now for the most – yes most – important thing that I want to impress upon every person who is reading this article: sex should never be attached with shame. Never! You should never feel that having had sex has made you lose your worth, your beauty, your desirability, or your identity. No one choice should make you feel less about yourself.
I’ve seen friends who have lost their virginity and let it derail their lives and self-value. But it wasn’t just the sex that set them down their destructive path – it was the shame the sex invoked. Even when one doesn’t consciously understand the condemnation they feel, it follows them like a cloud every where they go. If you don’t learn to forgive yourself and others for the choices you’ve made, they will be the central force driving your internal world.
Your sexuality is a wonderful and powerful thing that you get to be in control of for the rest of your life, and your virginity (or lack thereof) does not define you!
Another reason it is so vital to remove the stigma and shame attached to sex, especially in Christian circles, is so we can eradicate the horrendous rape statistics. Every two minutes another American is sexually assaulted, and 68% of rape cases are never reported to the police. We have made people feel unsafe to speak up about how they’ve been violated because they are afraid they will be judged or blamed. This is a culture shift we can create together by reminding men and women that having sex does not make you broken or damaged. You are the only person who gets to be in control of your sexual choices, and we will not back down when those precious rights are being violated.
You can be proud of how you chose to express your sexuality, and you can be advocates for those whose rights are taken away from them. Because the truth about your virginity and your sexuality is that it’s just one part of what makes up the amazing, remarkable person that you are!