Fifty Shades of Virginity

(c) Leif Brandt Photography

[Guest post by Arleen Spenceley] – In the twenty miles between my house and my office, there are at least six strip clubs.

As I write this, ‘Magic Mike’ – a movie about a male stripper – has been in theaters a week and has grossed an estimated $63,322,000.

Fifty Shades of Grey is novel about a woman who gives her virginity to a guy whose version of sex is violent and demeaning. It is now a New York Times bestseller.

All this is to say I was not surprised that when my own grandmother learned that I am a virgin, her eyes were wide and her surprise obvious when she fumbled for the words:

“You are?”

It’s true. I am a 26-year-old virgin by choice.

A study published in 2011 by the National Center for Health Statistics says about 97 percent of men and 98 percent of women ages 25 to 44 aren’t virgins. I am what I call a two-percenter. One of few who hasn’t “done it,” in a world where “everyone’s doing it,” where the primary purpose of sex is pleasure, sexual compatibility is paramount, where people are surrounded by exploitative sexual images, are taught that infatuation is love and, so, are confused by it when somebody wants to save sex for marriage.

This is a world where people say stuff like this to me:

“Don’t you want to learn what you like in sex, and whether you’ll get that from a guy, before you agree to marry?”
“If it turns out the sex isn’t good, it’ll be really difficult to stay loyal.”
“Do you really want to ruin your wedding night that way?”

True story.

I understand the concern, because we live in a world where the quest in relationships–clearly–is primarily for intuitive sexual compatibility, underlain by our culture’s first loves: uninterrupted satisfaction and effortless gratification. This is a world that says sex is recreational, and a bodily function like eating or breathing, and that it’s only good when it doesn’t require patience, practice or communication. Sex, the world says, is for pleasure.

And so I understand why my fifty shades of virginity strikes the world as absurd. It is absurd to wait, if the purpose of sex is pleasure.

But I have news for the world.

We who save sex for marriage aren’t waiting to have the same kind of sex the world is having. We will never have that kind of sex.

For us, the purpose of sex is procreation and unity. We believe we are not designed to decide to unite with someone because the sex is “good.” We are designed to create a unique, pleasurable sexual relationship with the person with whom we are already united in marriage.

The person about whom we asked (and got good answers to) questions like these:

“Is this person spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, socially and financially prepared to be a spouse?”
“Does my relationship with this person draw me closer into Christ or drag me farther from Him?”
“Does the world need a future kid who grows up and turns into this person?”

Instead of asking questions like these:

“Am I initially and consistently gratified by sex with this person?”
“Do this person’s body parts meet my standards?”
“What do I get out of agreeing to be with this person?”

This is not because we don’t think sex should be pleasurable (we do, and it should). It is not because we don’t think sex is important (we do, and it is). It is because a culture that deplores sex if it requires patience, practice and communication – a culture more concerned with being prepared for a wedding night than with being prepared for a marriage -has gravely missed the point.

The world says “marriage is just a sheet of paper” and it “never lasts.” But the world doesn’t see this:

That marriage requires a definitive love and a rejection of the use of a person. It is designed to result in the epic, beautiful, necessary and mutual destruction of self absorption. It is intended to be a reflection of Christ’s covenant with the church.

That if you are unwilling to be patient, to practice and to communicate in sex, odds are good you are unwilling to be patient, to practice and to communicate in other parts of your relationship (or will be after awhile).

That for people who reject definitive love, resist the eradication of self absorption and are unwilling to be patient, to practice and to communicate in relationships, the world is right:

A marriage is just a sheet of paper. And when it is, it will not last.

Arleen Spenceley is a Roman Catholic Christian, a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times and a grad student studying rehabilitation and mental health counseling at the University of South Florida. She can think, write and talk about sex, relationships, social media, communication and the impacts of American culture on Christianity for hours. Click here to read her blog.


  • Jordan Bowser

    Who IS this chick?! She’s the bomb dignity!

    Great post Arleen. Very inspiring and challenging. The world, and the two-percenters (three-percenters, since I’m a guy) are talking about two completely different concepts of marriage and sex. Let’s choose the one that brings us closer to GOD, and to each other. The first and second commandments, right there. What now. 

  • Jim

    You are such an inspiration to this world..God bless you, as He has and will continually do so.

    I see Him in your smile.

  • Mariliz64

    I want my teenage boys to read this, as well as the girls that come into, and out of, their lives.

  • Wendy van Eyck

    Love your line: “We who save sex for marriage aren’t waiting to have the same kind of sex the world is having.” 
    My husband and I were both virgins when we got married (just under 2 years ago) and in our late twenties. We don’t regret it for a moment. Thanks for this article!

    • Arleen Spenceley

      And when men and women who spend their dating years using each other decide to get married, they’re not gonna know how to be married.

      To quote Sister Helena Burns – the fabulous media nun who blogs at – having sex with significant others before marriage is “training for the opposite of marriage. … If I want to be a soccer player, why would I go to basketball camp? Even right up to the wedding we have this custom of strippers at bachelor parties and now male strippers at bachelorette parties. Really? So the wedding day will be a magic wand to suddenly make me faithful to just one person?”

      And to quote another recent sex essay of mine (you can find the link to it on my blog)…”In not knowing what I’m doing, I can express confidence in my spouse’s commitment to me. In not knowing what to expect, I can infuse my vows with authenticity.”

      • jan

        this is a beautiful quote at the end here. love it. if a partner expects you to be an expert the first time, they are not wanting YOU… if they love and respect and want YOU, they’ll know and understand (and even LOVE the fact) that you are who you are and that means learning together!

  • Anne Lenoir

    People ask me what I think marriage is, this is it! Great post. Worldly sex is temporary. People change sexual partners like underwear. How is anything built to last? Patience. 

  • Amy Young

    Love (though sad) the line about being a 2%er — I work with a lot of singles (and am one myself) who have no guarantee of the future (true for us all) and love the ways you fight the messages that bombard us!

  • Jermaine Lane

    My take and personal experiences: It irks me when we Christians lump everyone who doesn’t share our worldview or belief system as “the world.” I did that for years, and it only served to keep me disconnected from people who are hurting and broken.

    The vibe is: when Christians find out you aren’t a virgin, you’re labeled, judged, and not part of the tribe. This usually happens before a human conncection can be made and people can tell their story. Their story of how they came to Christ years after their virginity was gone. Or how their virginity was forciblly taken away against their will. Or how they were in an altered state of consciousness and can’t remember what happened, just that they aren’t “pure” anymore. Or someone who uses sex to escape from their emotional wounds (perhaps as some of us Christians use “Christianity” to escape from our emotional wounds) And on an on. I think we ought to be less concered about statistics and more concerned with an actual person and their story.

    Being a virgin when you get married is awesome, yet people wear it like a badge of honor and the impetus is more on the procedure of “staying a virgin”. It’s on a continuum. People wear their virginity like a prize on one end and people wear the pursuit of sex like a prize on the other. The hurting and the wounded and the broken caught in the valley between.

    Are we telling people to “stay a virgin until you get married” to honor God or to fit in with the Tribe? If a wedding was at 1pm and the bride and groom had sex at 12:30pm, can we comment on that as a human and not hide behind scripture, tradition, and folklore. Could we not comment at all and spankin’ love the couple and walk with them. It seems that would be rarer than being a virgin. I was a virgin at 26, I wasn’t at 27, I married my wife at 33.

    How are we really treating a person, a human being, who is not a virgin, someone who is tired of the shame and guilt from “The Church”.

    There are a lot of people who Christians and aren’t a virgin when they got married. I get the jist of what you’re writing Arleen, but why can’t The Church be a refuge for the virgin and non-virgin alike? Where is the message of grace for those who dance at the strip clubs or do we write them off as being, “in the world.”
    When will a group of Christian women go to the strip clubs or Playboy and love the dancers/models with grace and compassion? When will a group of Christian men shut up about how women are to dress and teach men to love their wives, to protect and respect women, etc. When will The Church as a whole have human, compassionate conversations about sex vs. “Don’t have sex because God said so and here is a bunch of verses to back that up.”

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Jermaine! I appreciate the feedback and the criticism. Here are my initial thoughts in response:

      – I often use the words “world,” “society,” and “culture” interchangeably (although since each is, in fact, defined differently, I ought to rethink which I choose. I do believe, as written in this column, that we live in a world, society, culture that promotes/is conducive to a way of life that doesn’t align with the way of life Jesus modeled for us. I’m open to suggestions for other ways to put it.

      – Your irkedness w/ the use of the word world is akin to my irkedness w/ the use of the word Christians (which is reason 2 I ought to reconsider which word I use when I write about “the world”! — I can relate!). You write “when Christians find out you aren’t a virgin, you’re labeled, judged and not part of the tribe;” but I don’t think labeling, judging, and exclusion are Christian traits. I think they’re human traits, and that some Christians have them and others don’t (and that we are mistaken to lump all Christians in w/ the humans who label, judge, and exclude because some of them do). Although my hunch is you aren’t among the ones who do that sort of lumping. 🙂

      – When I say “sex” in what I write, I imply (perhaps not clearly) that it involves consent. A person who is raped or is in an altered state of consciousness does not consent, and I neither believe nor ever, ever intend to imply that his or her experience has any impact on his or her “purity” (because it doesn’t).

      – I don’t use the word “pure” to describe what a person is or isn’t before or after he or she has had sex. I explain why here: I don’t think it’s a bad word, per se, but I think we need new ways to use it.

      – We COULD refrain from talking about virginity, saving sex, etc., but do we have to? Could we talk about it sometimes, and love everybody all the time (as much as humanly possible)? That one way of life is the antithesis of another doesn’t mean it is a judgment of it. This way of life is an option, and a life-giving one, and so I am pretty compelled to share.

      – Re: the badge of honor/idolization of virginity, I’ve written about that here:

      – And re: men telling women what to wear, you’ll probably like this (pardon all the self promotion, but it’s quicker to share what I’ve already written than to re-write it here!):

      • Jermaine Lane


        I apologize for my wordings or my implications. Lots of pain was scratched, lots of wounds brought up. I lump at times, guilty. I didn’t mean to imply you didn’t mean consent, I’m so sorry it came across that way. I know the pain/wounds so many people (myself included) have or shamed to have by not being virgins at marriage. And there is so much under the surface as to why.

        I feel yes, speaking of virginity is important. But listening to the stories of people who don’t subscribe to our worldview may be a remarkable path to take.

  • Alice

    Arleen-I am a 26 year old Catholic counselor in MN. I also waited until marriage! We have a 7 month old son now and it is very fun. Good for you. As my grandpa says “why buy the cow when the milk is free?” Best of luck with counseling.