Re-examining Reasons for Celibacy as Christian Women

pondering

Conversations about sex and sexuality can be tricky for young, Christian women who have been taught nothing more than to avoid being a stumbling block to their brothers in Christ, to wait until marriage, and to remain pure. Many of our churches teach and preach that pre-marital sex is a sin for everyone, but at times there seems to be added emphasis on women being pure. This definitely felt true for me growing up. I valued purity and my virgin status more than anything for a very long time, and while there is nothing wrong with being proud of being a virgin or being celibate, there are a lot of things wrong with having one’s identity centered on virginity and celibacy (see this article).

All throughout high school I was known as “the girl who was saving herself for marriage,” and that label followed me well into college. My virginity often times preceded me; many people knew about me not having sex before they even got to know me. It got to the point where my guy friends would literally introduce me to other guys as, “one of the few girls on campus with morals” (meanwhile, many of them were engaging in sex with multiple of the “less-moral” women on campus… but I digress). I even had a  friend tell me that he decided not to pursue anything romantic with me in college, because some of the girls who lived in our dorm warned him that I would never have sex with him. For a long time I use to relish in the fact that people associated me with my commitment to wait until marriage, and respected me for it. For me, it solidified my Christianity, and it placed me on an imaginary pedestal.

I always thought my decision and commitment to wait until marriage was a healthy and personal one. I would tell people my decision to wait was more than me just following what my church taught or doing what my mom begged me to do. I was confident that it was a personal choice and desire of mine, and for the most part it was. It wasn’t until college that I was challenged to question what my desire really was and where it really came from.  I would always end up in these heated debates about sex with my roommate and the guy I was should not have been dating at the time. During these conversations they would question why it was so important for me to wait until marriage. Of course, the questioning was motivated by my ex trying to convince me to have sex and from my roommate also wanting me to experience the sexual liberation she was enjoying in college. As annoying and frustrating as those conversations were, I am grateful for the fact that their badgering forced me to ask myself some difficult questions and re-evaluate my perspective on certain things regarding sex and sexuality.

During one of these “debates” the guy I was dating at the time asked, “why is waiting until marriage so important to you? What do you expect to gain from waiting?” My response was that I felt my virginity would be a valuable gift to my husband. I thought it would be a special and priceless gift for my husband to know that no other man could say he’s been with his wife intimately. The follow-up question was, “Do you care if your husband is a virgin or not?” My response was “No, not really.” and everyone laughed. They were laughing because here I was fighting to keep myself pure for a man whom I did not even hold to the same standard, or expect to be thinking about me so far ahead to do the same. I assumed that most men, including Christian men, would have pre-marital sex, because they were men and because they’d get a pass (messed up thinking, I know).  It was easy for me to accept the fact that my husband would be no less of a Christian if at some point in his life he had sex, but if I did, it would be more devastating spiritually and romantically, first, because I was the woman, and then because I grew up in the church and was supposed to know better. As the conversation went further and more people joined, a friend of mine, also a young, Christian woman, went on to say that she actually didn’t want to marry a virgin because, “one of us needs to know what we’re doing that night, and it’s better for that person to be him than me.”

I went back to my dorm room to mull over that conversation, and realized that my desire and decision to wait really had very little to do with my desire to please God, and everything to do with me wanting to live up to this ideal woman who was pure, and untouched and whose name no one could slander in the streets. I realized that I was using my virginity to validate my faith, not to honor God, and not because I was intentionally valuing myself or caring for my body. I was safeguarding my virgintiy because I did not want to taint my “good-girl” reputation or experience the shame that is often attributed to Christian women who have had pre-marital sex. I was trying to prove my holiness via my unbroken hymen, and from my friend’s remark about not wanting a virgin husband, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who falsey believed it was less shameful for a man to have had sex outside of marriage.

Because so much emphasis is placed on us Christian women to not be sexual in our dress, body language, and overall conduct, so many of us grow up afraid of being perceived as a jezebel or wanton woman, that we a) suppress our sexuality completely or b) only feel comfortable thinking about our sexuality vis-à-vis a future husband’s expectations of us and our bodies. I am not by any means encouraging us to disregard any desire or conviction we have to remain virgins or celibate until we’re married. I am extremely supportive of any woman or man’s decision to wait, because it is a choice to which I am committed. I also believe it is what God has called us to do as Christians.  However, I am encouraging us to take the time to re-consider the reasons we’ve given ourselves as to why we have decided to wait. Because if our spiritual, emotional and physical well-beings aren’t  at the center of that decision, it might be time for us to re-evaluate. I challenge you to question why you’ve made the decision to wait, and see how much of your decision is about what’s best for you and your relationship with God, and not about a man or other people’s perception of you.

It took me some time to come to terms with the reality that as much as I want to be married, and pray and hope that I’ll be married,  it’s not a guarantee that it will happen. Contrary to what some of us may have been taught, our salvation and relationship with Christ does not guarantee us a husband, so we have to learn to embrace the sexual part of our being as single women, in a way that is first pleasing to God and also healthy for us. And by embrace I mean, accepting the fact that God created sexuality for a good purpose, and there’s nothing shameful about that aspect of our being. God did not create female sexuality for us to be ashamed and afraid of it or to only be concerned about pleasing a husband (should God bless us with one). I understand that this isn’t always the easiest thing to accept, especially when many of us have only been able to view our sexuality and bodies as something to  please our future husband’s with. But how will you deal with your sexuality and your decision to please God by waiting if you’re 40+ and still not married? Or if God makes it very clear that marriage isn’t for you? Do  you throw in the towel and stop waiting? Do you try to suppress your sexuality and dismiss that part of your being because you have no husband? I definitely don’t have all the answers, but these are the types of questions we really need to grapple with and pray about if we’re serious about abstinance/celibacy and our commitments to honor God with our bodies.

Our decision to wait can’t be motivated solely by the end goal of marriage or the desire to be lauded for being chaste. Too many of us are striving to be holy without learning to also be whole. During this time of being single I have been asking God to take me through the necessary work of learning to embrace and love every aspect of my being, including  my sexuality. I do not want to be a woman who spent years waiting for reasons that aren’t personal to me, and unable to healthily embrace my sexuality, only for God to bless me with a husband and not be able to enjoy intimacy with him. Uh-uh, that is not what God desires for any of us. As Christian women, many of us have felt the weight of the word “wait” in our lives for a long time, but if we take the time to make sure our decisions are based on our personal relationships with God, scripture and our spiritual, emotional and physical well-being, I am confident it will make our decision feel less burdensome and more empowering.

Ashlee Wisdom is a graduate of Howard University, where she received a B.S. in Psychology and minor in Biology. While studying in Washington, DC, Ashlee joined the Urban Cusp team as an intern, and has since been appointed to the position of managing editor. Merging her passions for healthcare and writing, she also works as a grant writer for a non-profit health center in New York. Ashlee is most passionate about her faith in Jesus Christ, black feminism, and combating racial, ethnic, and socio-economic disparities in healthcare. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health in Health Policy & Management at New York Medical College. You can follow her on Twitter @AshleeWisdom.