My wife is part of a Facebook group of teenage mothers who commiserate and advise each other through the joys and challenges of raising teenagers. Most of these women are not members of the Church.
One day my wife was discussing with me a medical question one of these women had concerning her 17-year-old daughter, who has had frequent sexual encounters already.
While discussing some difficulties her daughter was having with a gynecological exam, the mother made a statement I found to be curious.
Her exact words were these:
“I think the main problem was the fact that she is technically a "virgin" (no penile intercourse) and she completely tensed up.”
This woman, who is not LDS, believes that (despite her daughter having had multiple sexual encounters) as long as she has not had penile intercourse, is still a “virgin”.
Perhaps in a sense, and even if only according to cultural norms, she is correct. But in a wider sense, an eternal sense, she is very much misinformed. Physical virginity and virtue is not the same thing.
My hope is that we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know the difference.
The World is Losing the Concept of the Sacred
The world in general (including the greater Christian world and even some in our own church) are losing the ability to detect the difference between what is sacred and what is profane. This concept is missing from the secular (non-religious) culture almost entirely.
This is why statements such as this – someone being ‘technically a virgin’ – can even be allowed to enter our language as a cultural norm.
Sex educators, such as Pan Stenzel, would stress that this is even a dangerous idea because it leads to the belief that as long as they are still “technically a virgin”, they are not really having sex. This is an idiom that has led to the rampant spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).[i]
The placing of a greater worth of the physical over the spiritual is what leads to this. Sometimes, there is a complete rejection of the existence of the spiritual or the equalization of complete carnal fulfillment as being the “spiritual”. Those who chose this path are then lost in a fog of situational morality that continually clouds their judgment.
The link below this paragraph connects to an interview by Matt Lauer for ABC Television. It is with a female middle school teacher who was convicted of having a sexual relationship with her teenage male student.
Although there are mental issues involved on her side, there’s also an extreme lack of understanding about morals and virtue in almost everyone involved – including her lawyer and Mr. Lauer. Although the interview is entitled, “Crossing the Line”, it seems that where that line is, has become blurry for most people in the world.
A word of warning for those who may be sensitive as this interview is disturbing and gives some graphic sexual descriptions.
These sorts of misunderstandings and disagreements have their roots in a lack of understanding of what sort of behavior is sacred, and what is profane.
Misunderstandings in the Church Culture
Contrast the interview above with this TED talk, given by Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and raped:
At her young age of 14, when she was abducted, she had been taught the gospel and was doing her best to live it, but when thrown into an extreme circumstance, she showed a lack of understanding as well, one that she has hopefully corrected.
It was the feeling that, once she had been raped, that was it. She was worthless, and not worth saving, because her virginity was gone.
This emphasis of where the value was placed is not correct from a doctrinal perspective.
What’s the Difference?
Virginity is a precious gift from our Father in Heaven. Saving our virginity for marriage can help a couple connect more strongly with each other than without it[ii]. Those who do not save it must work harder to focus on each other as exclusive sexual partners.
Virginity, just as other temporal things we put value on, can easily be stolen or end up thrown away and treated as being of no worth, such as in the example of Jacob and Esau.[iii]
But virtue, the greater gift, cannot be stolen, as physical virginity can.
It’s ludicrous to say that a person on a stolen recommend who sneaks into the temple of God can steal blessings from the Lord, or steal revelation. Likewise, virtue (no matter how many times you rape a man or woman’s body) cannot be stolen.
Sister Elaine S. Dalton said
“Virtue is a prerequisite to entering the Lord’s holy temples and to receiving the Spirit’s guidance. Virtue “is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.” It encompasses chastity and moral purity.Virtue begins in the heart and in the mind. It is nurtured in the home. It is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions. Virtue is a word we don’t hear often in today’s society, but the Latin root word virtus means strength. Virtuous women and men possess a quiet dignity and inner strength.They are confident because they are worthy to receive and be guided by the Holy Ghost. President Monson has counseled: “You be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone. Have the moral courage to be a light for others to follow.There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness—and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so.”[iv]
Virtue is the strength and the power behind virginity and no physical means can take that power from us. Virtue and faith together can lead to great rewards from heaven.[v]
Only we can choose to value it, or let it go, through our understanding of gospel principles or the lack thereof.
Allow me to say that again. Virtue cannot be stolen, it must be given away to be lost or shared with someone who is worthy to receive it – such as a spouse.
Virtue Easier to Lose, But Brings Greater Blessings
If someone is raped, something precious has been taken that will never be returned – biologically it’s just not possible, and there will be physical and mental consequences to be endured and managed it is true. But if their virtue is intact, they’re still eternally in good shape – much better shape, in fact, than that of the offender.
However, if we’ve engaged in consensual sexual encounters of any kind outside of marriage as God has warned us not to do, at any level small or great, ‘technical virginity’ is irrelevant. In this case, it’s our virtue that is gone, which is far more precious and valuable than physical virginity.
We will have to fight hard to get virtue back, and the Atonement will allow us to get it back, but not without much pain and work on our part. When it comes to things spiritual, prevention is always easier and less painful than the cure. The Lord knows how to help us value what is most important, and He will not be mocked.[vi]
I hope each of us will teach our children the value of virtue over virginity through word AND example. Virtue and virginity are both of great value, but the former is far greater for our marriages and our children’s future marriages and families.
[ii] Mark Gungor, Christian pastor and counselor, explains what happens physically to those who have sex outside of marriage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jL1l9ZtGC2w
[iii] Gen 25:29-34
[iv] Dalton, Elaine S., A Return To Virtue, (2008,1), https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/a-return-to-virtue?lang=eng
[v] Luke 8:46; Proverbs 31:10-31
[vi] Boyd K. Packer, The Plan of Happiness, April 2015 Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/the-plan-of-happiness?lang=eng