The children I came to care for five years ago have now become…(DREAD)…teenagers. And teenagers means crushes, hormones and sexual tension. I find myself pulled into more and more conversations about love, dating and sex each passing month. Since they all know I am still a card carrying member of the V-club (and pay my dues every freakin year hoping it’s my last) they like to see me as “one of them” in virtue of the fact that I’m in the same boat as they are. When we talk about the reality of sexual temptation my basic approach is to not just speak in spiritual platitudes about abstinence before marriage but advocate simple common sense (i.e. “I just wish I’d had more sex before I married,” said no one ever.)
I do want to extol the gift of virginity that they can give one day, and I do want them to see its value. But at the same time I don’t want to press it so far that they think God equates their private parts with their value and worth. Sometimes I wonder if the Church ties too much value and worth to virginity in ways that send mixed signals to teens. On the one hand the Church says:
1) Your identity is not in what you do but in who you are in Christ as a much loved daughter and son of your Heavenly Father.
But on the other hand the Church often sends this message:
2) Don’t give away your virginity before your married because it is the invaluable treasure of who you are, and once you lose it by giving it to the wrong person you can never get your treasure back again. You are tainted, used goods from that point forward.
Here in Cambodia the culture places such a high value on virginity that it becomes equated with identity and personal worth. When a young girl’s virgin rights are sold by her family (in desperate poverty) and she is repeatedly raped for a week by her purchaser and is then returned to her village, she is usually shunned by her own family and forced out of the village because everyone knows she is “tainted goods. As such she will not be able to get an honorable marriage to a good man in the village. Her identity and value as a woman becomes consigned to a lower category because she is “dirty.”
Cambodians have a saying, “Men are like rocks that can be washed clean but woman are like cloth that are stained forever.” In other words men can get away with sexual promiscuity by taking a shower, but women are stained and branded forever as dirty women. Many young, teen, Cambodian girls whose virgin rights have been sold end up being the girls who work the night shifts in the karaoke bars and brothels. Why? Because the societal custom is to equate the loss of female virginity with a loss in personal identity and worth.
If the Church community is not careful I think she can inadvertently make the same mistake in her worthy endeavor to promote purity and instruct both girls and boys to wait patiently for marriage.
Each generation has its own unique pressures bearing upon it from the secular culture, and therefore each church generation needs wisdom from the Holy Spirit in how to best reach the hearts and minds of our teens and extol the wisdom of waiting until marriage.
Click here for a rather shockingly blunt yet excellent, must read piece on how the church’s approach to virginity and sex can unwittingly push the issue front and center to an unhealthy degree.