Where, Oh, Where Have All the Virgins Gone?

I have a confession to make. 

I was raised in a religious cult. Uh-oh, here we go again you may be thinking, another cult victim writing about her experiences. I understand how the stories may begin to blur in our collective minds. There really are so many of them. It shouldn’t surprise us though. After all, perhaps more than any other country in modern times, America is home to the Christian cult or what I like to refer to as the cross-eyed cousins of Christianity. You know what I’m talking about. An endless array of bizarre belief systems that have either sprung up from a single individual, usually a male, and then attracted a following or a splinter group that felt the need to redeem a church with stricter interpretations of the scriptures. These wacky doodle groups abound in the US like no other country in the western world. There’s nothing mainstream about them AT ALL. My father was one of those lone wolves who believed he had been called out from among them to be separate. The voices in his head literally told him that he was the last prophet of the last day and age. Lucky me. I was ten when he converted and it was a rough ride until I was old enough to finally leave home.

Having prefaced this article with the cross-eyed cousins of Christianity metaphor, I want to speak to one particular belief that is almost always a central theme at the core of what these deeply deluded groups build their lives upon — sex as sin. Thus, virginity is a virtue. There is a lot of emphasis placed on purity and it seems the best way to insure purity is through abstaining from sex. As my father continued to hear voices instructing him on how the righteous must live their lives, he also received many revelations about how godly people should have sex or in many cases abstain from having sex.

Eventually, sex was divided into several categories.

The only sex that was deemed appropriate was that which took place between a married man and woman. Sex before marriage was called fornication. Sex with any other person other than a spouse was adultery. Divorce was a sin. Divorce and remarriage was adultery. It was all very black and white. There were numerous members of my dad's church who were already divorced when they joined. They were required to live alone for the rest of their lives or until the spouse passed away. Homosexuality was also considered a sin, but back in the day, I’m showing my age here, people didn’t speak openly of such things all that often. I didn’t even hear of homosexuality until I was 17 or 18 years old.

Our big sins were fornication and adultery. 

Now that was something that was pounded into my head regularly. As a young person, I was constantly being suspected of improper behavior with the opposite sex.. My dad was determined to raise virgins and he knew that wasn’t going to be an easy task. After all, he hadn’t been a virgin and neither had my mom when they married. Turns out neither had my grandparents on either side of the family. None of his converts had been virgins either. The only virgins in the church were the children and keeping them so was a full time occupation.

But wait a minute! That’s not all.

There was such a thing as impure thoughts as well. Men were plagued with them apparently and women were perceived as the catalyst for all of these lustful preoccupations. Thus began the slowly developing but determined evolution of our uniforms. Don’t ask me why god revealed this transition from worldly attire to godly attire in increments, but he did. Not cutting our hair, no makeup or jewelry including wedding rings was almost immediate. After all, my dad’s conversion took place in a Nazarene church, so they were already practicing restrictions on clothing. But one reason he eventually withdrew from all churches was that he could never find one that was strict enough. That led him to finally decide that all of the modern churches were in a backslidden state and that god was no longer in their midst.

As I matured, god began to impress upon my dad just how much responsibility I had to save men from impure thoughts.

There was something about my twelve year old body that seemed wanton at first glance. So, god told my dad that I needed to lengthen my skirts to well below my knees, about midcalf. Next, he revealed that long sleeves and buttoned collars were required. But that wasn’t enough apparently to protect the men in the church from lusting after me, so black stockings soon became part of the uniform. Still, I was perceived as a threat. Soon, god was telling my dad that I needed to lower my skirts to my ankles and it was time to give up colorful clothing as well. After all, even in nature the female birds were the dowdy ones for their protection don’t you know. So there I was with a long gray dress, buttoned at the neck and collar, black stockings, uncut hair in a bun, no makeup and no jewelry. As a young teen, I was about as plain a prospect as any male striving for pure thoughts would want to see plus the gray and only gray dress kept me humble and less likely to succumb to vanity. That’s right! My closet was full of gray dresses, one exactly like another.

Yet, the uniform wasn’t complete. 

There was still a bit of contour left and that was causing the men in the church great discomfort. Depending on the size of a woman’s bosom, the contour was more or less noticeable but it was still very distracting. Plus, once in a while, the gap between the buttons on the bodice provided an unintended peek to our underwear. So, the cape was invented. It was worn over the bodice and buttoned at the waist and it hid contours fairly successfully. Bosoms appeared flatter and sneak peeks were curtailed.

Did the impure thoughts stop?

Of course not. Until the day I ran away from home, my appearance and actions were often deemed inappropriate. The exuberance of youth strictly prohibited. No running, going barefoot in the grass, swimming, riding of a bicycle and no contact with young males. Ever vigilant in his desire to preserve my virginity, contact with single males was closely guarded against.

The statistical success rate of banishing impure thoughts through the practice of rigorous rules for women and girls probably isn’t too encouraging. 

In fact, among my father’s group of followers, about 50 members including children, aberrant behavior flourished. At least four men that I know of were guilty of raping their own daughters, some at a very young age. My father was among these men. One man even went to prison. I’ve met a lot of cross-eyed cousins of Christianity as my family crisscrossed the country in search of a group that my father thought was strict enough to join. Needless to say, they all oppressed women and they all had their fair share of deviant behaviors. Whether strict sexual conduct rules end up producing such behaviors is a question for psychologists. I’m neither a psychologist nor a reformed theologian. I was merely a bystander and a helpless victim of one of the biggest circuses in town. I’m the self-appointed eyes on the ground reporter. I’d like to think that my family story is unusual, something that rarely happens in America or elsewhere in the world. Frankly, however, I know that’s just not true.

There are thousands of churches scattered across the US that have strange and oppressive rules for women, all claiming that our virginity is a virtue.

All are horrified at the very idea of female sexuality. All are determined to take away our personal autonomy. Fortunately, in spite of our religiously biased culture, society has managed to evolve. For example, where once divorce was pretty well prohibited by the state and the church, now divorce is the norm. It’s a very recent phenomenon, however. After all, the normalization of divorce has largely taken place in my lifetime. If there is a church left in the US that refuses to recognize divorce as an option to couples and still believes that remarriage is adultery, I can’t name one off the top of my head. I'm pretty sure that they exist, but are clearly in the minority. And, although I’m glad that couples can no longer be held hostage in unhappy marriages by the state or the church, I find it very irritating that the sanctimonious who for years stuck their noses in the personal marital business of others now have some of the highest rates of divorce of any demographic in America. I contend that once they got off the anti-divorce high horse, they were in desperate need of a new social sin to focus upon in order to feel self-righteous. So they shifted their rabid attention to homosexuality. Now, until that becomes fully normalized into society, that’s where the devout will jubilantly fight their holy war.

Is virginity still considered a virtue? 

I think not so much these days in mainstream America. Living together before marriage, divorcing and remarrying and sex before marriage have now become socially acceptable. Yet, the cross-eyed cousins of Christianity are still among us, many now in positions of power within our government. They may be the minority but they’re a minority on a mission. Many believe, like my dad, that America needs saving and that it’s their job to do it. They want to revive old notions about women as the weaker vessels who should be in subjection to their husbands. They still see women as the downfall of men, the great temptresses who either choose to embrace the spirit of a godly woman or the spirit of a harlot. There is no in between. And, the Bible which they hold as their only true road map through life supports these archaic, harmful notions. Even liberal Christians manage to still love the Bible. Who doesn’t love the Bible? Best of all, the Bible loves virgins. And, while I don’t think that modern society is ready to return to the old philosophy of bad girls vs good girls nor will they happily give up their sexual liberation because of an old, outdated book, they show their confusion when they defend this mean spirited tome.

You can't claim to be fighting for equal rights for all and love the Bible. 

The two simply can't coexist. Beware! We are always just one step away from sliding back into the Dark Ages, a time when sacrificing a virgin was thought to be a really cool thing to do.

Teresa Roberts is an author, world traveler and dedicated myth buster. Her recent book - Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales - can be purchased on Amazon.