Vows and Virginity: Part 1

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

I am twenty-one-years old, engaged, recently graduated from the number one party school in the nation, but I’m saving sex for marriage.

I’m not doing this because I’m scared of STI’s or pregnancy. Neither am I doing it because I fear some sort of disapproval. My choice is contingent on one core belief. Without that belief, my choice would not make sense. I’ve saved it because I believe in marriage. The old-fashioned kind. The kind that you can’t quit on. And I think our abandonment of that concept of marriage, not just the media or the music we listen to or sexism or sex education, is the real reason for the rarity of my choice.

When I say that we abandoned that concept of marriage I don’t mean that we have stopped having weddings. We have tons of weddings. We have weddings and wedding dresses and wedding cakes and wedding TV shows. We’re still having weddings. But I don’t know how many marriages are taking place. In our culture we now believe it is everyone’s right to abandon the marital vow under some circumstance (not here referring to physically leaving in the case of danger which is a different matter and can still be entirely in line with the vow) and as long as we can abandon a vow, it is not a vow.

Now I don’t mean to discredit the reasons people have for abandoning this vow. Marriage is terrifying. There is enormous risk in promising something until death. We have all seen the risks play out and understandably so many of us have chosen the safer route. We have the celebration, the cake, the dress. We may change our last name and move in together. And we may even have kids. We accept the trappings of the vow because we think those trappings might make our intent come to fruition. Maybe if we get married we’ll stay together. But—we don’t absolutely have to.

The problem is, we need only look at the divorce rate to know that we don’t absolutely have to means there’s a good chance we won’t. A culture where half of the married people break the vow must mean we don’t fully believe in the vow. We don’t really believe in marriage anymore.

So what does this have to do with virginity?

Well, first, it means that as long as marriage is a statement of intent, the argument for premarital abstinence is extremely weak. And you hear this all the time from those who argue against it. They say things like what is the big difference between waiting until we love each other and waiting until marriage? Or how do you even know that your husband will be a virgin? He probably won’t be. Or, I’m not even sure I’m going to get married, so why would I wait? And all of these reasons make so much sense. Once we have adopted the modern concept of marriage—that it is merely another stepping-stone in affections rather than an uncompromising vow, an unbreakable unification of two people as one, and the entire reason we date—waiting until marriage doesn’t really make sense. We have lost faith in this romantic ideal of saving yourself for one person when that one person is likely to not be the only person. We don’t see why there should be an objective boundary of the wedding night when the wedding night actually isn’t as significant as we make it out to be. As long as it is just a special celebration of a statement of intent to love, it becomes fairly arbitrary. And at that point, why can’t those who love each other just as much and have made their own personal statement of intent express their love through their sexuality too? It isn’t fair that two people would have to plan a big party in order to express themselves.

But what if it wasn’t just a big party?

The problem with our modern concept of sexuality is that although we reject objective boundaries, we all deep down long for them. We even project our subjective boundaries as if they were objective. I have never encountered anyone who has absolutely no standards with regard to sex. We all have our point at which timing makes you “slutty” or timing makes you prudish. We make grand proclamations about how we would “never do it on a first date” or how we think it’s ridiculous that someone would. And always, unless we have so diminished sex that it means very little to us anymore, these boundaries have something to do with the level of commitment we have with the person. We know that sex means something and says something and gives something and therefore, it implies and requires commitment. But we seem to be in a constant battle interiorly and with each other about when that commitment is enough. When can we be free to give confidently and fully? When can we know the time is right objectively—not just based upon when we feel like it? Our feelings and desires are unpredictable and unreliable, and we long for that objective standard. That time when we can know. It just seems unreasonable in this day and age that that standard be marriage.

But I ask again, what if the marriage wasn’t just a big party?

In my next post I am going to address this question.

2 thoughts on “Vows and Virginity: Part 1

  1. I love your vow-based lens on marriage, which seems to place this union on par with religious vows. Opens the door to a spiritual reflection on the dignity of marriage.

    Vows are something removed from our modern secular discourse, and I think there is some real value in revisiting them. In reclaiming matrimony, you should consider looking into the not-so-romantic aspects of marriages in western culture before people started “marrying for love” (I read some of this from Yale historian Dr. John Boswell, but a lot of second- and third-wave feminists probably speak to this).

    I reccomend changing “STD” to “STI,” since that is the new preferred term.