Look out: People are outraged on the internet!
Sorry; I should probably be more specific. A week or two ago, Lori Alexander wrote a blog post entitled “Men Prefer Debt Free Virgins Without Tattoos.” And predictably, a lot of Christian feminists got very very upset.
Now, as generalizations go, that title is about as accurate as you can get. The debt-free part is a no-brainer. (If you’d seriously rather be in debt than out of debt, I’d be happy to help you out; I look forward to receiving your monthly installments.) Tattoos are more complicated than I’d like to get into at the moment, but for now let this suffice: Like most art, a tattoo always makes a statement; and like much art, a tattoo always says a whole lot more than was intended–and it does so loudly.
But it’s really the virgin part that’s getting under people’s skin despite being another no-brainer. When considering a prospective wife, men absolutely prefer virgins. It’s a generalization, which means there are exceptions; but men who genuinely wish their wives had slept with a few more guys before they wed have got issues. The fact that Christians are getting outraged over this is a sad testament to the state of chastity in the Church.
If you’d like the rhetorically effective response to this outrage, this anonymous piece at The Federalist does the trick perfectly. (And since there have already been several speculations on the subject, no, I didn’t write it.) But if you’d like a dialectically effective response (i.e. a logical explanation for why is this outrage is woefully inappropriate) then read on.
So the big objection seems to be this: Because we’re forgiven by Christ, how can a Christian man possibly hold fornication against a prospective wife? The fact that so many Christians answer “he can’t!” reveals how badly we confuse righteousness coram deo (before God) and righteousness coram mundo (before the world.)
These two kinds of righteousness are according to the same moral Law, but because they involve different judges, they have different standards and consequences. Coram deo, one needs to keep the law absolutely perfectly in even the smallest detail because God is holy. Coram mundo, one need only be “a basically good person” because we’re all sinners and can therefore only be so strict without being both hypocritical and tyrannical. Consequently, our only hope of righteousness coram deo is the perfect imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, blotting out all of our sins before God and forgiving us of every penalty. But does this forgiveness also remove all penalties for sin coram mundo?
Let’s parse out that question using another sin: murder. Now, coram deo, even hating your brother is murder while coram mundo, only literal murder is murder; so to be clear, we’re going with literal murder here. What shall we do with a repentant murderer who is forgiven by Christ? Coram deo, he is completely forgiven and escapes eternal punishment because Christ was punished in his stead. The victim receives retribution but the murderer is nevertheless shown mercy.
Coram mundo, however, even repentant murderers still face temporal penalties. Open contrition and repentance might mitigate sentencing or qualify someone for earlier parole, but it’s not like receiving absolution from a prison chaplain gets you immediately released—nor should it. Temporal punishment and consequences carry the burden of civilization along with them. As sinners, we need to be disciplined by the law so that we aren’t constantly going about raping, murdering, and robbing one another. Even when we forgive one another our sins, many of the consequences of those sins remain—both by circumstance and by deliberate choice.
So coram mundo, even Christ’s forgiveness does not immediately annihilate every temporal penalty and consequence for sin—not for murder, and not for fornication. Forgiveness coram mundo doesn’t mean everyone should overlook your character flaws any more than it means the miraculous healing of your STD’s.
But that’s all pretty obvious—even if the specific theological terms are unfamiliar. So why are so many Christian women missing the boat on this? The source of the confusion lies in the fact that righteousness coram mundo requires us to overlook peccadilloes all the time. Calling out people for every little white lie, every inappropriate look, or every slightly rude gesture would require a perpetual state of outrage. Just look at any SJW to see how destructive (and exhausting) that is. So many women take the opinion that unlike our example of murder, a history of fornication is just another peccadillo. If repentance can mitigate penalties for murder, surely it means mere fornication can be overlooked altogether—especially in our culture where its so normalized that normal people don’t even use words like ‘fornication’ anymore.
But here’s the problem: while a spouse’s virginity is a small matter to women, it really isn’t a small matter to men. Men value a woman’s virginity in a way that women do not. To be sure, women can learn to value a man’s sexual purity—and women with traditional upbringings have a tendency to do so—but men instinctively value a woman’s sexual purity. We don’t have to be taught on the matter.
This shouldn’t come as a terribly big surprise. Parents are, by design, bound to our offspring. When you go into a modern maternity ward, they have all sorts of redundant measures in place to make sure that the baby you go home with is the same baby you brought in because babies are irreplaceable. A parent doesn’t just want a baby, he wants his baby. Losing your child in this way would be horrifying. Well, in a very real sense, this is precisely what happens when a wife cuckolds her husband.
Outside of science fiction scenarios, when a woman gives birth, there’s no real doubt as to whether or not its her baby. The same is not true for fathers. You can look for family resemblance or maybe do genetic testing, but at the end of the day, the way most of us know our children are ours is through trusting the mother. The primary basis for trusting anyone is through their character as demonstrated by past behavior and reputation. Because of this, fornication and promiscuity invariably degrade that incredibly important trust. It makes perfect sense that men would be far more inherently sensitive to these matters.
Fornication has severe implications for the durability of marriage as well. Marriage is far-and-away the biggest risk most men will ever take in their lives. The risk of divorce is as high as 50%. Between 60% and 80% of divorces are initiated by wives. The consequences of divorce as determined by our family court system are heavily weighted against men. They stand to lose not only their wives, but access to their children, their homes, and a huge chunk of their future income. When the overall risk of divorce is so high and the consequences so severe, it makes perfect sense for men to want to mitigate that risk.
As it turns out, study after study shows that a woman’s sexual history makes a huge impact on that risk. According to IFS’ recent analysis of CDC data, when marrying a virgin bride, the risk of divorce within 5 years is only about 5%. That quadruples to around 20% when the bride has had a single premarital partner, and increases to between 25-30% as the partner count remains in the single digits (it goes further up from there). Now, with their data also showing the proportion of virgin brides since 2000 at about 11% (and falling), that’s not exactly an easy option. Nevertheless, the legitimacy of men’s preference is clear, and the rarity of virginity only makes it that much more valuable to marriage-minded men.
Not only are men’s instincts on the matter pragmatic, they are far more in line with the Bible than women’s. Scripture consistently treats sexual sin as a big deal. Paul marks it out as being especially heinous in 1 Corinthians 6. What’s more, when it comes to the more significant spiritual matters of idolatry and unbelief, sexual sin is the go-to imagery used throughout the Bible. It’s always described as whoring after other gods or committing adultery with them. The consequence of marriage being an image of Christ and His Church written into fundamental human nature is that violations of marriage through sexual sin are especially bad.
Now there is a class of men that isn’t terribly bothered by a woman’s promiscuity: men whose own partner counts dwarf those of most women they encounter. They usually don’t even wonder about sexual history. Naturally, there’s a catch. These men are, ipso facto, the ones who A) find women inherently replaceable and B) have plenty of options to choose from. Their trust isn’t based so much on a woman’s character, but rather on an unspoken threat point: If she betrays him in any substantial way, he will kick her to the curb without a second thought and trip over several better women as soon as he turns around. Because of this, they’re not particularly inclined to faithfully marry in the first place. On top of that, their myriad of options means very high competition. Unless women bring something exceptional to the table like super-model good looks, these men aren’t really a practical option for most women.
Given the state of sexual mores in America, I don’t doubt that confronting the obvious truth that men prefer virgin wives hurts a lot of feelings. It’s natural to feel disappointment and even shame upon learning that you flushed a winning lottery ticket. But most of our lives have too many squandered opportunities, and we mustn’t take these realizations in unhealthy ways. First, it’s no reason to despair—the happiest course of action is always to make the best of what you have, no matter what injuries you’ve sustained. Second, it’s certainly no reason to hide this reality from other women who haven’t yet made these same mistakes and thereby injure them as well. And finally, it’s no reason to shame men for instinctively recognizing this reality. We are most certainly better served by listening to those instincts.
It seems to me this normalization of a culture of fornication is the direct result of rejecting a teleological view of the human body and sex. Sadly, Lutherans also commonly seem guilty of holding natural law teaching at arm’s length, and a confusion of many issues of morality, such as this one, is naturally what follows.
Everyone should read through Humanae Vitae and revisit Pope John Paul II Theology of the Body. Not only will a teleological view of sex pragmatically reduce all of the ills of modern society referenced above (i.e. divorce, single parents, abortion, etc.), but it is actually a far more rational view of sex, to begin with.
I completely agree. It’s really unfortunate that Lutherans wandered off from our natural law traditions. Biblical moral teachings seem extremely alien to people growing up in America today. But if you can connect the dots from their consciences and common behaviors to the law written on their hearts, it makes a lot more sense.
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