In a recent post, I promised to explain why I think that saddlebacking is a fantastic addition to the English language. First of all, I want to point out that I have no idea if this phenomenon exists in reality. I kind of doubt it. I don't doubt that determined Christian teens find ways to relieve their sexual urges, but I doubt that many of them resort to anal sex - I may be wrong, but that isn't really the point here.
Regardless of the reality, I see the entire idea of virginity as a virtue as archaic and damaging. This idea has been woven into virtually every aspect and fiber of our society. I can't think of any place where virginity (either kept or lost) has no impact, and in churches and religious communities, it is vitally important - in many cases it is a defining aspect of the community's identity.
As with religion and superstition in general, I freely acknowledge the ancient roots of the idea of virginity as a virtue, and I even believe that it may have preserved the human species in some ways. Among many things that I am not, I am neither sociologist nor anthropologist, so I will not propose scientific theories here. But from a lay person's perspective, the practice of valuing virginity as well as restricting females' breeding partners seems like a good way to keep genetic material in order. It also may have helped build communities with relatively solid family structures. As I said, I don't know - these are just guesses. But my point is that I want to give the idea of virginity as virtue the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was good for a time. But by now we should know better.
Where does this idea come from? Why does standard, secular thought still place weight on the virginity of a woman? Why do brides wear white? Why, in 2009, do I even know what that means? To me, virginity is a form of possession. Like a tamper-evident seal for food or medicine products, virginity allows the consumer (males, of course) to see if the love-of-his-life has been spoiled. Over the years, the value that men have put on female virginity has been adopted by the women themselves. Now female virginity is a prized commodity. Perhaps male virginity would be, if it weren't so difficult to prove.
Our society has created a giant tangle of laws and rules and taboos around sex. As before, this may have some developmental benefits, not to mention health benefits of exercising caution. In this age of disease and children, it is advantageous to be careful how and with whom one has sex. It is shortsighted, however, to assume that there are any rules at all about sex. Obvious red flags begin to pop up, of course: children, animals and any unwilling (or unwitting) partner should be protected. Laws should exist to protect these people, but the problem isn't sex per se, but exploitation and harm.
And speaking of harm, exactly what harm does all of this overvalued virginity cause? To get back to the original premise (saddlebacking), harm comes to the lives of people who deny their nature for the benefit of an imaginary watchman. Lives and relationships are wrecked when people try to cram their desires into a tiny, boring box. As anyone who grew up in a church can tell you, religious communities are rife with unhappy marriages, unions whose discords are evident to all. Why stay together? Why were they together in the first place? In many cases the answer was sex. With all of this emphasis on chastity and preserving sex until marriage, priorities were misplaced and judgments were inhibited. First love is such a fragile and temporary thing - I can't say that it has never led to anything good, but its success rate can't possibly be very high. And to children (15, 16, 17, 18, 19-year-old children) in religious communities caught in the raptures of this giddy, enveloping, blinding love, thoughts of sex are impossible to avoid. Temptation is around every turn - why shouldn't it be? Soon enough, marriage looks very tantalizing.
I don't propose any kind of solution. I'm not saying that everyone should just have sex all the time and with whomever they please. We are all products of our society and, although I see nothing implicitly wrong with multiple partners, I have no particular desire to do so; my wife and I both value monogamy. I don't regard it as a sin; the crime would come from betraying the trust that we have with each other not to have sex with anyone else. What I do propose is that the thought of virginity be done away with. Who cares? Sex is procreation, sex is science, sex is recreation, sex is an activity and, as with all activities, precautions should be taken. But virgins are not more chaste, more pure, more virtuous than those who have had sex. I propose that virginity becomes a scientific term that describes nothing more than a lack of experience in a particular area.