Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Formerly Naughty

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Recently my sister and I debated about an issue concerning sex and dating. (She's spiritual and tends to be on the liberal side on everything from sex, drugs, values, economics, etc.)

After not having been to church since my early teens, I have recently returned. My past is far from pristine. However, I am trying to be a Nice Catholic Girl. Even if at times I'm more of a Confused Catholic Girl, with all the things that I'm learning and trying to figure about Catholicism in general.

To cut to the chase, I told my sister that my plan would be to date a Nice Catholic Boy and stay chaste. Her reply was that once you lose your virginity Nice Catholic Boys or Nice Protestant Boys or Nice Religious Boys in general will look the other way. Secondly, Nice Catholic Boys would only respect those wishes from a Nice Virginal Catholic Girl. To insist at my age that I wish to abstain from sexual relations ensures that I will not find any relationship and I will ultimately end up alone. Thirdly, I was told that by insisting we stay chaste at my age I am not only being naive, but I am setting myself up for failure since most older adults do engage in sexual relationships, with the exception of virginal adults or those who were married and later saw their marriages dissolve in divorce or annulment.

What I want to know is if that is true among Nice Catholic Boys. Am I wasting my time wanting to one day date a Nice Catholic Boy if my past is far from perfect? Should I just search for a Nice Boy minus the religious affiliation? I guess the real question is if I can be accepted into a Catholic community, not being perfect. I know we're suppose to be charitable and forgiving, but I'm wondering if my sister is right. The US for all its perks can at times be very unforgiving, especially within certain Christian denominations, and it would pain me to make this attempt to start new if really in the end I'll be rejected.


Former Naughty Catholic Girl

Dear Formerly Naughty,

Yours is an incredibly important and sensitive letter, and I've taken some time to think before posting. Be warned: this is going to be a long and nuanced post.

First, it is only perpetual virginity that is important in itself. If someone plans on staying a virgin all their life, that is the highest calling in the Christian tradition after martyrdom--and martyrdom is not a gift we can give ourselves. (St. Francis tried to be martyred and failed.) Rape cannot take true virginity away: loss of virginity requires an act of will.

The reason why those who wish to be married stay virgins should be obedience to God. However, there are host of secondary and tertiary reasons to stay chaste before marriage, which I will not ennumerate because this is not a chastity blog, although of course I advocate chastity to everyone according to their state in life.

Second, loss of virginity is NOT a deal-breaker to Nice Catholic Boys, so you are not wasting your time. Many NCBs are not virgins themselves. Many have had their period of rebellion, have drunk from the world's poisoned cup and are sorry now. Fairminded, they know they have no right to judge women who have had similar experiences. However, they may avoid women who have the appearance of inchastity. Men are very visual, and I will return to this point below.

About 99% of men are given to what the chastity books call "self-abuse", so I have no patience with the few immature NCBs who are obsessed with marrying virgins. Even if they have never experienced normal sex-with-a-woman, they have committed sexual sins, and they should remember that and be humble.

Third, refusing to put out weeds out a lot of men. But not the right man. Definitely not the right man. He will always respect your decision, and frankly, I think it would just hurry up his proposal. Men tend to want to sleep with the women they passionately love. If they can't until marriage, okay, they'll just get married.

Fourth, I and my NCG friends have managed to have great adult relationships--even romantic relationships--with NCBs without having sex with them. We have dated NCBs we didn't sleep with or marry, and we have managed to be engaged to NCBs without consummating the marriage until after the wedding. NCBs are just as interested in NCGs in not having to make highly embarrassing confessions at their pre-wedding shriving.

Fifth, yes, some NCBs are obsessed with marrying virgins. This is more of a patriarchal-control thing than a Catholic thing. Guys like that often have ISSUES. Guys like that wouldn't even marry a young WIDOW. And guys like that can make lousy husbands.

Therefore, I always advise virgin NCGs not to talk about their virginity . Don't discuss it. Don't brag about it. It's nobody's business except her fiance's, and that only so they can talk about how to commence their married life without trauma. If virgins boast around, virgin-hunters of all levels of neurosis (or evil) might come out of the woodwork. Incidentally, purity rings are stupid.

Sixth, some "N"CBs (often the guys above) are afraid of sex and of women more than they are afraid of sin. Being immature, they slap labels on women, left and right. It never occurs to them that their evil slander is worse than some premarital sex is. Speaking as a former divorcee, I can tell you that this SUCKS. And therefore, NEVER tell anyone--except a therapist and/or trusted priest in the confessional--about your sexual past. Immature, gossipy "N"CBs and bitchy "N"CGs can do a girl's reputation a lot of damage. Also:

Seventh, men-in-general have very vivid sexual imaginations, and so if you tell a suitor about you and some guy, he might imagine you with that guy and get humph-y and jealous. Again, my advice is to not tell until your fiance starts to tell you about HIS sexual past, and then be as vague as possible.

Our North American cultures--American and Canadian--put too much emphasis on what we call "honesty" at the expense of privacy and prudence.

Eighth, if you are dating a Catholic man, even a lapsed one, he knows what the rules are. You tell him you are a practising Catholic, and he should know that this means no sex. If he doesn't, remind him. If he is incredulous, dump him. Walking away from his car, you will feel worse than you ever have in your life, but you'll be in good company. You don't have to admit to being a virgin or non-virgin. IT IS SO NOBODY'S BUSINESS.

In short:
1. Almost all NCBs have themselves sinned sexually.
2. A good, mature NCB does not think non-virginity a deal-breaker.
3. Some NCBs are obsessed with virginity, however, and need to grow up.
4. What is important NOW is your current chastity, and therefore do not let your past distract or detract from that. The question is not, "What did you do?" but "Who are you becoming?"
5. A man who really likes you respects you and will wait. If he can't wait, He Is Just Not That Into You. Ditch him.

Finally, there is a long essay in my book called "Pure" which sums all this up. Dawn Eden writes passionately on "secondary virginity": you could google her.

I hope this is helpful. I believe your sister is right that NCBs (being men) prefer the APPEARANCE of lifelong chastity in the women they admire, but wrong that non-virginity is dealbreaker for (good, mature) NCBs.

Meanwhile, you are not the first woman to write to me about this. And the Gospels are very clear that there is more joy in heaven over the reclaimed runaway sheep than the 99 who stuck around. And, you know, nowadays, there are probably more reclaimed runaway sheep than homebody sheep. Like, 80 sheep ran away, and 20 stayed. The 20 sheep are to be envied, but the 80 sheep are to be welcomed home with joy.

Welcome home, my dear.

Grace and peace,

Update: I will allow anonymous comments today if they are civil.


Unsurprisingly imperfect said...

Thumbs-up, Seraphic.

The only possible thing to add is that it is not just Nice Catholic Boys who have sinned sexually. Us Nice Catholic Girls have done things we are not proud of even if we are physically virgins. I know I have. I went to confession, I was absolved, and now it is MY RIGHT never to talk about it again -- or to discuss it with whom I want, when I want. I have repented and now those things have no power over me. New life in Christ and all that.

If you want to return to the flock and be a Nice Catholic Girl then you have the Lord of Hosts on your side and don't forget it. If you spend time calculating exactly how far astray you got, do it for yourself and for Christ, not for anyone else.

[I am posting under not my usual handle because it would be silly to say "it's my right not to ever mention it again" and then put it under my own name, thus, indeed, mentioning it again.]

Seraphic said...

Good point, and I've just added an update saying Anonymous is welcome today.

Anonymous said...

What you and Unsurprisingly Imperfect said. Yes.

I am in the same boat and sometimes wonder if I should just give up and go back to being a "not nice catholic girl" vs being alone.

Could have somebody in my bed in a heartbeat, but there is nothing lonelier than waking up next to a stranger. Whichever of you said that once you've confessed it to your priest, it's nobody else's business - good response for me to remember. I wish I had stayed virgin, but - I didn't.

And I HATE the attitude that "well, you've already (vulgarity omitted that means 'lost it'), so what's the big deal now?"

Oh - and I discussed this with a counselor once - how when men realize "no sex" they seem to run, and told him I was Catholic. He laughed in my face and told me he was Catholic too and it made no difference. Changed counselors.

I would almost rather be celibate the rest of my life than end up with somebody like that. The "almost" is the problem though.

God bless you for being charitable.

fifi said...

I want to extend a hand of welcome to Formerly Naughty too.

I'm sure you will find some places where the Catholic crowd is immature, or silly, or stupidly over-obsessed with virginity or the liturgy wars or Star Wars or whatever. But somewhere out there is a crowd of cheerful, cheeky, intelligent, deeply devout, utterly hilarious Catholic Young People. They know how to talk, how to have Real Fun, how to be true friends whether you are rejoicing or weeping, and how to encourage each other in the faith. They have three kinds of good sense: common sense, and a sense of humor, and the sense not to give a tinker's damn what mistakes anyone has or hasn't made. And they are waiting for you. You may have many false starts, dead ends, and disappointments, you may feel like friends of this kind are only a mirage, but stick it out and you will find them, and they will find you, I promise. God provides, and that you may be sure of.

Dance a little jig to yourself: the best is yet to come, and babe, won't it be fine?

Alisha said...

This is awesome :)
Out of curiosity, why do you think purity rings are stupid??

Anonymous said...

Formerly Naughty, I am sorry to say that virginity is not a Get-out-of-Jail-Free pass to keep one from being passed over, written off, or rejected. In fact, sometimes the opposite. You can't win, honey.

I cringe when a certain kind of person discovers my background (big Catholic family, homeschooled, Catholic college, okay, I admit it, sheltered childhood, but what's wrong with that? Don't we want kids to be safe and happy?).

They'll see where you come from, and that you seem to be exercising virtue by trying not to gossip and say positive things about people instead. They'll observe your comings and goings and Mass attendance and notice that you're not making out with boys in the back of the bus and Voila! You are obviously a sheltered, naive, ignorant little twit they can take advantage of! You must spend your time getting the wool pulled over your eyes by everyone. You must live in an ivory tower, or a dream world, or whatever. It doesn't matter that you graduated Summa Cum Laude, that you're naturally extremely suspicious, canny, and mature for you age, or that you see through some of the scams and bad relationships the "adventurous, free-spirited" promiscuous crowd goes for unthinkingly.

Granted, these folks are usually the uncatechised, unevangelized types. But even among Christians I think there is sometimes a prejudice toward Great Conversion Stories and people who have them. People who have instead tried to live lives of virtue get put on this terrible pedestal that is at the same time a sort of padded cell. It's like on one hand people are really intimidated by you, and at they same time they think your faith has never been really tested if you haven't visibly fallen. And what the hell do they know?

'Scuse my French, but PLEASE don't be intimidated by the "Good Girls." We're in the exact same boat as you. We sin and deal with the crappy consequences of it, and we have to go to therapy to deal with our wacky families, and we get ourselves into all sorts of scrapes, and struggle with how to live good lives and find good spiritual formation and prayer. And having a good reputation can be itself a cross in the way that I've mentioned. The important thing is that we are all equally sinful, equally loved, and equally saved.

I agree with Seraphic that getting all caught up in Virginity is ridiculous. Chastity, Lived According To Your State is enough of a tussle to occupy anyone and everyone, and that tussle you have in common with NCG and Bs everywhere, and with married people, and with religious. Find the people who are sincerely interested in doing it, and you will find people who will never judge you. They know far too well how much we are all beholden to grace.

May I suggest that, whenever the NCB phantom comes up in your brain that you say a quick prayer to St. Joseph? After all, he was a Nice Jewish Boy who got a very rude shock concerning his fiance's virginity,(or so it seemed). St. Joe will be a good friend to you and smooth your way.

Best of luck and prayers!
The Voluptuous Virgin

Seraphic said...

Alisha, I think purity rings are stupid because they are advertising something that should be 100% private.

They could attract virgin-hunters of both the obsesssed-with-marrying-virgins type and the obsessed-with-seducing-virgins type.

All they do is draw attention to a girl's sexual "status" or intentions, even though those are pure, and men sometimes have a hard enough time focussing on women as PEOPLE without being reminded by purity rings that they are potential bedmates.

All Catholic and Evangelical women know they are not supposed to have sex before marriage. They don't need rings to remind themselves!

Seraphic said...

Anonymous (totally Anonymous), thank you for writing. Yes, men do run. But the right one won't run, and good for you for dumping your Bad Catholic counsellor.

The attitude of "you've already [lost it] so what's the big deal" is so awful, I could bite big chunks out of my desk just thinking about it. How dehumanizing! I thought we had a feminist revolution that was all about seeing women as human beings, not as spaces with or without hymens stretched over them. Arrrgh!!!!

You are a very big deal, and your happiness is a very big deal, and your sexuality is a very big deal, and going to bed with you is such a very big deal, that only your future husband (if you have one) deserves this!

some guy on the street said...

Yes, definitely, what Auntie said. Any CB who would consign a woman to the flames of his disdeign for any past unhappy lost wanderings without reference to her immediate disposition, attitude, and behaviour, any such CB isn't at all N, and has a lot of work to do on his C'ity. There are plenty of genuine NCBs out there, one mark of which is that if you befriend them they will positively help you to live in purity and holiness --- I'm certainly trying to be that sort of gent, and I'm such a wretch that it can't be so uncommon. If God intends you to marry, this point is a deal-breaker in identifying your Mr.! So fret not: God doesn't want for you what isn't possible.

Anonymous said...

This speaks to me, I am not a virgin but I am a practicing Catholic. I want a NCB but then you get caught up in expectations and what not and totally psych yourself out sometimes before you even meet the guy. I have been chaste for years having learned from my mistake, went to confession but still I have been letting it rule my life to an extent. Shaking off those shackles, NCB here I come.

Anonymous said...

Formerly Naughty, don't forget as well that anybody judging you likely has a whole rash of their own issues and hangups (a remarkable lack of charity being only the first one I can think of). Your past experiences, while you regret them now, may also have played a big part in bringing you back to faith, which is all the more reason why it is no "N"CB's business in judging you for them. That's all between you and God. It's all very nice if you've had impeccable behaviour, and complete moral and religious certainty your whole life, but you know what? Not everyone's life path is so easy! Remember, Jesus came to call sinners as well as the virtuous, and wasn't at all keen on Pharisees. What's important is where you are now, and how you are trying to live your faith now.

Also, obsessing about virginity or non-virginity is really unhealthy. I had a NCG friend who eventually became so obsessed with all the (non-Catholic) friends and acquaintances (not to mention potential boyfriends) she had who she believed thought her to be a freak for being a 24 year old virgin, that she ended up sleeping with a man so as not to have to confess to being a virgin anymore. And this man she believed was her loving boyfriend took to just calling her up for booty calls (like at midnight) and generally using and manipulating her. Luckily she eventually got out of this situation with a little help from SOME of her friends. Two things about this: (1) I don't think it would have happened if she wasn't feeling judged all the time by people with an unhealthy interest in what she was up to sexually to the point that it messed her up and destroyed her self-esteem, (2) anybody now judging her for this from the NCB/NCG camp is participating in the same inappropriate obsession with people's sexual pasts that led to the sad situation in the first place. I mean, what about loving kindness, people?

A man who is overly obsessed with having a virgin wife may also not be terribly good husband material in the long run, as marriage requires an ability to accept imperfection, forgive and move on. If he requires a 'blank slate' in that regard as an absolute, non-negotiable must, then he might not deal very well with forgiving any mistakes that you make in the future (I'm not specifying any particular kind, I'm just saying nobody behaves completely perfectly all the time).

So really, what I am trying to say is concentrate on who you are now, and who you would like to become. Any NCB worth his salt will be impressed with someone really committed to being a good person and living faithfully now and in the future, and shouldn't rule you out because of your sexual history. And if he does, then I'd advise you to run away anyhow.

Best wishes,
I'm being anonymous today.

Anonymous said...

I'm a guy and usually post here under a regular handle. I'd like to be anonymous for this one.

I think Seraphic's point that our North American culture emphasizes a false version of honesty over prudence and propriety is spot on. I think the more detail in which a NCB and NCG discuss this subject, the more potential there is for harm. (I would love to read Seraphic's thoughts about how to live out true honesty in a relationship.)

I'm not a virgin. It was with one woman. I wasn't Catholic at the time. I don't really dwell on it, but when I do I feel awful about it. I try to be a NCB and would be forgiving toward any NCG who has fallen in this regard; I just ask to be spared the details--a lesson I learned the hard way.

I was in a serious relationship, my first serious post-conversion relationship, which seemed headed for marriage.

My girlfriend asked me whether not I was a virgin. I told her that to my shame, I was not. She asked for details. I told her the basic facts.

I reciprocated and asked her. She was a virgin, but volunteered had sinned sexually with a number of men over the years.

Over the course of the relationship, we both asked each other for more details about each other's pasts.

While it really didn't have anything to do with the dissolution of the relationship, I know that knowing all the details caused both of us a great deal of pain. The human imagination is both a wonderful and terrible thing.

Anonymous said...

Seraphic, thank you for bringing this situation up. . . I'm more in Voluptuous Virgin's camp myself (would love to have her come for a girls' night of hair braiding and movies!), but I wouldn't want any Formerly Naughtys (ies?) to despair or think they're being judged harshly by those on the so-called other side, either. There's a whole spectrum when you really think about it, but ultimately we all have the same goal (Heaven).

Mystical Maiden

Seraphic said...

Thank you, guy Anonymous of April 29, 2:01. Your insight is a VERY important one. Such details are not to be shared. The place to discuss regrettable sexual incidents, numbers, etc. is in the confessional (and, if necessary, the therapist's office) and that's it.

Perhaps, for those of us who are obsessed with "honesty" and "intimacy" at the expense of prudence and kindness (for such confessions aren't kind), silence is part of the penance we should offer for what we did.

theobromophile said...

From experience: RUN from men who are obsessed with marrying (or even dating) sexually pure women! Run, fast! He may as well sport a neon sign declaring that no matter what you do, you will NEVER be good enough for him - even if you are sexually pure and always have been. (Furthermore, do not be lulled into thinking that a man who is fixated on sexual purity will actually value it in you: most men who are that uncharitable don't actually care about holiness, just want the ego boost.)

On that note, Seraphic gave some excellent advice about a year ago: Never tell a man (or a woman) whom you are dating whether or not you are a virgin. Aside from the "none of their business" principle, you can learn a lot about a person by how he (or she) reacts to not getting a specific answer - and by observing his reaction when your emotions are not clouded by just having revealed such a private part of your life.

Merrily Modest Monica said...

I'm not a virgin. I had sex once, with a guy I didn't care about after being an everything but intercourse virgin to simply no longer a virgin because I didn't say no fast enough. Will I tell my future boyfriends about all of that? Probably not. When I do tell my fiance, I will probably leave out a lot of the above information, because it doesn't really matter how many times I messed up and was forgiven, but rather that I had and I was. Details certainly won't help that.

Why did I just tell all of you, be it under a pseudonym? Because that life changing event did affect positively how I started to look at virginity and how I had defined myself by it. I largely fell into that sinful relationship because I held onto my virginity more as a label of purity than a sacrifice for God. I hate that because I screwed up once I lost a label that meant so much to me. I hate even more, though, that I could righteously call myself good, falsely, because I managed to hold onto a label. I used to be angry with my friends with more sexual sins than I had, because they held onto their labels and I hadn't, so I looked far worse. What matters far more now, however, is that we all live chastely anew each day, regardless of our pasts.

I previously believed that my sexual sins would ruin my ability to be loved a man, to have a happy marriage, but the reality is that any man good enough to marry me will love without judgment.

For everyone who is still feeling the weight of their past sins, I encourage you to check out Unbound by Neal Lozano. Unbound prayers have been life savers for many of my friends, allowing them to believe that they have actually been forgiven.

God bless!