You've heard plenty of stories about how true love waits. Respect yourself … save your virginity for your spouse. These are wonderful stories; kudos to all who live them out. Now, for those of you who feel like it's too late for that story of purity and light, here's another true story, derived from an eyewitness account by a man named John.
There's nothing quite as humiliating as being caught in the act. Just moments ago, this woman had been numbly playing the part that had somehow fallen to her, doing her best to avoid the pain in her heart. Now, more alone than ever before, she was being dragged through the streets to the temple, naked. There were plenty of excuses for her behavior, but none of the details mattered to this gaggle of upright, uptight citizens. They were broadcasting the moral "bottom line" loudly and repeatedly to a man named Jesus and to the crowd which gathered. "This woman was caught in adultery, in the very act."
The indignant pious men squirmed like hungry school-boys in a long line for lunch. "Well?" "What do you say, Teacher?" "Do you keep the Law, or not?"
The Law. The ancient Law stated that every adulteress shall be put to death by stoning, and these men were eager to fulfill it. She braced herself for a new kind of pain. On the very edge of her vision field, she saw a man squatting. ... running his finger through the dirt. Was he writing? Fascinated, her eyes followed him as he stood — until she spotted the crowd and remembered her embarrassment. She buried her face in her arms. I am an adulteress; I deserve this, she chided herself. How just an ending to a life of sin.
Some of you know how this story ends. What does this have to do with modern-day America?
Even after the so-called "liberation" of the sexual revolution, no matter how vehemently our society casts off the old moral laws, the intimacy and sacredness of sex is still somehow impressed upon our hearts. When it's not practiced in the security and fidelity of a lifelong marital commitment, it has painful consequences.
In 1995, the Department of Health and Human Services found that 50 percent of young women and 55 percent of young men (ages 15-19) reported being "sexually active." They have forsaken this sacred thing known as virginity, in hopes that something better can be found in the highly exalted sexual activity.
Does this satisfy? Apparently not. If there is one word that does not characterize our culture, it is "satisfied." Not sex nor any of the other temporal things we have tried — at the insistence of Hollywood or Madison Avenue — can keep us happy for long.
Dozens of organizations exist today to educate young people on how to use birth control to prevent pregnancy and condoms to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. These methods are not fail-proof, however, and those who are honest with themselves will admit that there is no such thing as a condom for the heart. Once you have had sex, you are never quite the same. You see yourself in a different way. You know from experience (not just in theory) that you are a sexual being. You have new feelings about the person to whom you gave your virginity: you may long for closeness with that person, or you may resent them for having been a part of your regrettable decision. Or both. You may feel guilt, shame, resignation, or a longing for more.
If the god of sex didn't provide what it promised to your virgin ears, you may wish for all the world that you could go back and undo your choice. You may resent the innocence of virgins around you, and find yourself thinking, "What's the use in trying to be pure? I've already blown it."
In some social scenes, there is definite pressure to be sexually active – as though virginity is a burden to shake off. And, just like any other enticing option, once you have said "yes," it's infinitely harder to say "no" after that. Especially when the gossip mill has spun and you acquire a "reputation." Some girls have found that if they can't be "in" with the purity gang, they can at least feel momentarily "accepted" with guys who are ready to take them as they are – for sex.
Despite these mixed emotions, social pressures and temptations, sexual purity is still the best way to go. Have you ever heard someone say they regret having saved sex for marriage? Though it's too late to just speak of virginity — you needn't surrender to promiscuity. For all who didn't save it, it's never too late to become pure in thought.
It wasn't too late for the adulteress …
As she cowered in shame, the man who had been writing in the dirt spoke solemnly to the crowd: "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."
The woman felt her muscles become tense again. Who would be the most righteous? Would the first stone hurt the most, or would the throws become harder and harder as these zealots became more and more confident in the act of stoning a woman to death?
A strange silence followed. Suddenly, no one had anything to say.
One old man sighed and walked away. Another followed.
Maybe they went to get rocks.
A few moments later, some younger scribes bolted, running after the older men, whose figures had become small in the distance. Others turned, perplexed and embarrassed. Still, not a word.
Finally, a word was spoken – directly to her. The man they called Teacher said gently: "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir."
"Neither do I condemn you."
Does he know what I have done?
"… Go now and leave your life of sin."
Apparently, He did know what she had done. It was clear to everyone that she had just been practicing sin, but this Man also knew what deeds she had done in her entire life. He knew all the complexities; He knew the justifications she had in her own mind every time she violated her conscience; He knew the part that others played in allowing her – sometimes even pressuring her – to sin in various ways. In fact, this Man – God – knows everything that every single one of us has done. The worst deeds, with the worst intentions, He is willing and able to forgive.
You can be pure again. You can be forgiven by the One who made you. In this story and in many other places in the Bible, He has declared His desire to "wash" us clean from the dirt into which we have wandered. Our part in this is to repent and accept that forgiveness.
True, you can't get your virginity back – you'll never be the person you once were. You can, however, be stronger and wiser than you were before – and more able to resist what you know is wrong. True repentance means that we do all that is in our power to "go and leave our life of sin." Once you are forgiven, you are not perfect. But you have learned and will continue to learn, and each of us is responsible to live according to what we know.
In fact, from your regrettable experience, you potentially have two gifts:
- True purity of heart. Many virgins are truly pure in their hearts, but others are toying with sex, going as far as they can without "technically" sinning – as though it is a game. Now that you know you do not want to continue to have sex without a lifelong commitment, you can live a life where you choose your actions and attitudes wisely. While some around you are in danger of just following the moral rules without fully knowing why, you know where the other path leads, and you can be deliberate. You can be more pure in heart and more single-minded than those who have never been caught in their lustful attitudes.
- A testimony. When you feel ready to tell your story, you can offer strength and wisdom to those who are curious, hormone-crazed or hungry for love. Do you have regrets? Tell others – so they don't feel so tempted to try it out themselves. You can tell them what you wish someone had told you before you made the decision to have sex. For example, you can testify that certain "innocent" actions are actually steps along the way to sexual temptation. And, as you talk to your peers, you may find that you have more credibility than any married adult.
A re-commitment to purity will have great reward. Like anything worth doing, it will be difficult at times. There are plenty of reasons to abstain until marriage – the myriad diseases that can only be transmitted through sex; the fact that sex outside of marriage (the only truly secure committed relationship) will never satisfy our desire for intimacy; the statistics showing that marriages last longer and grow stronger when they are based on a foundation of self-control and mutual respect. You have likely read about those elsewhere. Now, let it become personal: Consider what kind of a person you want to be. What kind of a lifestyle do you want to live this week and ever after? What kind of a marriage do you hope for? If you listen, your heart will tell you the things you may need to change in order to come closer to those desires. Some women find they want to try a different way of dressing – to show more respect for their own bodies. Men may repeat a phrase to themselves to help them respect the women around them. "Lord, show me how to love this woman, as one made in Your image, loved by You."
If you are still involved with the person to whom you gave your virginity, you have some unique obstacles. It is possible for you both to be pure again, but only if both of you are trying. If only one of you wants to change, it is probably time to take a break from one another.
If having sex together didn't sour your relationship, what's stopping you from getting married? The best way to demonstrate your sincerity in wanting to be pure is to set a date to marry and commit to abstain until then. Far better to marry earlier than you might have planned, than to burn with guilt or lust.
As you continue to build your relationship, watch for the damage that occurs in more subtle ways. When sex happens before commitment, trust is eroded; each person wonders if he or she is the only one, and if it will remain that way. Meanwhile, it seems that no matter what they try, the couple cannot go back to a sex-free love. Times alone together too often lead to the same thing - intercourse - followed by guilt and confusion: "why not have sex anyway? We are committed.
If you are both committed to changing, don't spend your time and energy meditating on what you are not going to do (i.e., have sex again). Rather, replace bad habits with good ones. Pray together. Go out with friends. Do anything but leave yourselves with a void, in which you will inevitably be tempted to go too far. Find creative, expressive, platonic ways to share your love. And get input from someone older and wiser. Lots of married couples would be happy to share their experience and mentor you in your own journey to relational wholeness.
Whatever you do, go! And sin no more. Most of all, don't condemn yourself when Christ has forgiven you, and never let your past sins be an excuse to compromise in the present.