On Monday, August 4th, a young woman named Samantha Pugsley published a blog entitled, "I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity, and I Wish I Hadn’t."
It has spread through social media like wildfire. I first saw it on the profile of a 17-year-old girl. 24 people have reshared the article from her profile alone.
|© 2013 Starla E. Rose, Flickr | CC-BY|
Cue the jaw-drops of Christian women everywhere. Bloggers: on your mark, get set, type!
To be sure, a quick response was needed. Pugsley's blog was admirably honest and vulnerable, but her conclusions are toxic. For starters, her own testimony reveals an important distinction that she herself does not seem to recognize: the cause of her guilt was not her decision to wait but the unhealthy way in which she was taught to think about sex. From even the title of her article, it's clear that she believes things would have been different (for the better) if she had not waited until her wedding night. But based on what she says about her upbringing and early influences, I am fairly certain that any decision on her part to have premarital sex would have produced more guilt, not less. The way she felt upon coming home from the honeymoon is telling: "When we got home, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye...I was soiled and tarnished." I fail to see how these feelings would have been averted if she had chosen pre-marital sex. Many other people have taken and kept this same virginity pledge and did not have the negative, guilt-ridden experience that she had. The problem was not the wait itself.
It's also interesting to note that Pugsley elsewhere describes herself as bisexual, something she doesn't reveal in this particular article and that probably represents many other complicated layers of sexual repression and confusion that have been going on even though she publicly pegs all of it on her church. Many people of all sexual orientations and backgrounds (religious or not) can experience confusion and guilt about their sexual desires and identity at some point in life. Such things are not exclusively the consequence of religion.
Because Pugsley framed her experience in the way she did, countless teenage girls are liking and sharing this post and saying to themselves, "See, I can do what I want, and that church down the street is just trying to control me." That same 17 year old later commented, "It's your body, and if you don't want to wait, it's perfectly okay. But if you do, that's okay too, just don't let others make your decision for you." She has joined the staggering numbers of teens and young adults who actually think that your beliefs and decisions are right and good so long as they are yours. In the real world, it doesn't work that way, which leads me to wonder how sheltered today's privileged kids really are. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial" (1 Corinthians 6:12). I'm always puzzled when people assert independence they have always had. Am I as a minister supposed to shrink back in shock and shame when someone tells me that they can make their own choices? Trust me, I know you can...that's what makes my job so challenging! Most churches are simply trying to lead their young people into healthy choices as best they know how. Unfortunately, Pugsley's church apparently made her fear sex, pushed her into a decision that she didn't understand, and made some shaky promises. ("I was told over and over again...that if I remained pure, my marriage would be blessed by God and if I didn’t that it would fall apart and end in tragic divorce.")
I've read several blogs written in response to Pugsley that are heartfelt but ultimately unhelpful and miss the core issue.
Blogger Savanna Hartman wrote a response that contains something that many others were probably thinking, including me. Addressing her article directly to Pugsley, she writes:
Do you know how many young impressionable girls have read your blog?...Please consider that somewhere tonight a young (or not so young) girl made the decision to give up her virginity to someone who didn’t deserve it, won’t appreciate it, and won’t be there in the morning...Hartman shares that she experienced the same shame and guilt because she did not wait, and now regrets it. I found myself saying a few silent "amens" to her points above. But Hartman is ultimately quite dismissive of Pugsley's experience. She offers a few insincere-sounding condolences for what Pugsley experienced, but ends up preaching to her and ends by saying, "I am sorry you aren’t glad you waited, but I sure am glad you did." In dealing with what Pugsley expresses, we cannot be so dismissive of her genuine experience, nor can we fail to see the larger, unaddressed problem here:
Hartman's blog was actually one of the better ones I ran across. Another blogger named Phylicia wrote her own response. While she shares a short story or two of feeling used by past boyfriends, etc., her blog is really just a sermon. I can tell you this: whenever young people are forced to choose between an abstract sermon and an honest personal story, they will gravitate to the personal story. Phylicia writes about how a decision for purity is not something we do for ourselves but out of loyalty to Christ. Yes, but I can pretty much guarantee that Pugsley and many of her readers have heard all of that before, and they have long since decided that such theological mantras offer them nothing of practical value.
If you're feeling especially brave, read the comment section below some of these posts I've mentioned. In short, all of this has once again exposed the church as one of the most unhelpful, impractical, and unrealistic places in our society to talk about sex. There are exceptions of course, but by and large, Pugsley's experience is a natural outcome of a church culture that has little more to say than "don't do it" and suggests, if only implicitly, that sex is bad. The conversation that Pugsley has spurred is an important one, but because the church is so often either silent or repressive, it's happening on social media in a lot of unhealthy, immature, and uninformed ways. Pugsley's article was posted on styleite.com, a website that calls itself "home to the freshest fashion and culture content for millennial women on the web...dedicated to delivering smart, original commentary and news to keep our readers informed of the latest trends, from fashion and style to music and television."
If that's not the forum in which we want our young people talking about sex, it's time to kick our prudish silence out the door and get ready for some real conversations.
In Part 2, I try my hand at starting one.