Monday, June 3, 2013

Virginity And Sexual Shame

Patheos is going on and on about a post Calah Alexander did about abstinence-only sex ed programs. Apparently Elizabeth Smart criticized such programs for making her feel bad after she had been kidnapped and raped. That is obviously a very sad case. Nobody wants to disagree with a rape victim especially if you are male. Still that is how sentimentalism works. Someone has a feeling and nobody dares contradict them because they don't want to hurt anyone. Calah herself has a lot of negative sexual history. It is common in today's society.

The first problem is to try and understand where guilt feelings come from. Ms Smart blames the church, in this case the Mormon church, for making her feel guilty. Many people blame the Catholic church or various fundamentalist churches depending on what religion they were raised in. Do churches make you feel guilty? Not really. In today's society they rarely have that much power. At some point in history they might have but not with the modern skepticism that is so prevalent. What makes people feel guilty? Their conscience. That is formed by church teaching but it is also directly spoken to by God. A rape victim does not need to be taught that she has been violated. She knows. The rapist knows it too. Deep in their hearts they both know there is something messed up about what is happening.

There were a lot of objections to describing the messed up nature of things as dirty. I don't really have a problem with that image. The thought was women would get the idea that all sex was dirty. They might. All teaching on sex runs that risk. The danger of not drawing the right distinctions between sexual things that are good and sexual things that are immoral. We see so much sex in our culture and the vast majority of it is immoral so it is very easy to give that impression to kids by accident. That is kind of a separate question. The image of dirty/clean is not really any more error prone in this regard than other images.

Then there is the question of virginity. Do we want to talk about the importance of remaining a virgin or just talk about the value of chastity? The trouble is when some in your audience have already lost their virginity. They are going to feel bad. This is where protestants and Catholics should differ. Virginity is an important concept in Catholic tradition. Protestants don't value tradition and don't really understand holiness so they are not going to get it. When they talk about virginity they immediately add on "secondary virginity" which is not virginity but rather chastity.

The Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine, Cecilia, Barbara and Ursula 
Why does the church celebrate virginity? Starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary and including many female saints the fact that they were virgins is frequently highlighted. Why? It has to do with holiness. Yes, sexual sins are forgiven but there is still something that has been lost. Forgiveness does not remove all the damage caused by the sin. Suppose you drive too fast and crash your car. Then you go to confession. God will forgive you. You car will still be broken. That is true even if you didn't drive too fast but somebody else did and crashed your car. That is totally unfair but your car is still broken.

It is the same thing with virginity. Something of value gets lost. It does not get restored with forgiveness. Virginity is not the center of holiness. Love is. So it is not something we should despair over. Yet we should be sad about it. That should be true regardless of whether that loss was due to rape or bad choices on our part. But has not a rape victim suffered enough without being told they have lost something important? Actually their loss of virginity is a big part of their suffering. Denying the reality of their loss is not the right response. If somebody lost a leg in an attack would it be right to deny the significance of losing the leg? You don't do that. You accept it is a huge loss and it is totally undeserved but we still need to get on with life.

One last point, Elizabeth Smart talks about being dirty and being afraid to come back to her family. That is a big problem. We should always make clear that kids and even adults can come back. That they will be accepted. It does not mean they are not dirty. It is more of a matter of no matter how dirty you are we will love you. It does not matter if it was your own dumb fault or if something bad happened to you. You should never be ashamed to come home. Shame is real but it should always be reduce rather than increased by coming home.

That needs to go for our biological families. It also needs to go for our church families. The home and the church need to be the safe places people can go in their hour of shame. Elizabeth Smart didn't understand that. I don't think that is because of the curriculum so much as it is because of the underlying spirituality. Grace is a lifestyle. Grace does not mean watering down the law. It means not kicking people when they are down. Kick them when they need motivation but not when they are already remorseful. That is when we need to focus on forgiveness and healing.

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