I grew up in a relatively moderate mega church in the Cleveland area, and when I was twelve I decided to take part in the Purity Series. I would like to emphasize that doing the Purity Series was my decision and that my parents went along with it because, at that point, they were devout Christians who wanted the best for their daughter (the second part is still true). I decided to do it because I had a crush on Jeff and realized that doing the series meant that I could see him once more per week. Also, I knew that I would get to wear a pretty dress at the culminating banquet. Definitely not the purest of intentions, but I was twelve and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So I started going to gender segregated meetings (so much for seeing Jeff more) and learning about the importance of remaining a virgin until marriage. I was taught that being a virgin would make my future marriage more valuable, and it was implied that, by extension, I would be more valuable. I was told that sex outside of marriage could only lead to bad things and that I should be careful in the way I dressed and the way I acted, so as not to tempt men. There were even rules regulating how long my skirt should be; because somehow a twelve year old could provoke temptation in a skirt above knee level. I remember thinking that some of the suggestions were a little weird, but I went along with it anyways. About seven years after I made the promise at the ceremony, I found a Facebook picture of my reaction to taking the vow:
That is the face of someone who thinks the whole process is messed up. And I was right. Also, I had to wear the sweater because shoulders could be interpreted as temptation.
I was not taught that being a virgin or not being a virgin was a decision that was fully my own. I was not told that I could be a virgin if I wanted to be, BECAUSE I wanted to be, for however long I wanted to be. I wish I had been told that whether or not I had sex before marrying someone was entirely my decision, and that it should be that way. There is nothing wrong with waiting until marriage to have sex; there is also nothing wrong with not doing so. I wish that the element of personal choice had been articulated. I also wish that the church had engaged me in this conversation when I was older and more able to understand what I had promised to do. I do not think that a twelve year old can fully grasp the concept of what waiting until marriage means; I certainly couldn’t anyways.
I am ending my post with this more recent picture of myself for two reasons: 1. You cannot tell from the picture whether or not I am a virgin. 2. And it does not matter. Although my shoulders are showing, the picture displays someone whose worth is determined by more than her sexuality. I sincerely hope that the Purity Movement will hear voices such as mine, and articulate the importance of personal choice regarding sexuality. If virginity is as important as it is made out to be, then learning about it certainly should not involve platitudes about what is right or wrong. Rather, talks about virginity should focus on doing what is right for each individual.
By: Hannah Abrahamson
Student Worker – OU Women’s Center