Having grown up in the church, I feel like there are two different virginity messages communicated to the unmarried. Which message you get depends on which age group you fall into.
If you are a teenager, you are bombarded with True Love Waits-type messages. Youth leaders stress HOW IMPORTANT it is to SAVE YOUR ~MOST PRECIOUS GIFT~ FOR YOUR FUTURE SPOUSE. This is (I suppose for teenagers) the ULTIMATE ACT OF LOVE. Even more than actually consummating a relationship as an act of love, the act of saving that consummation is the true mark of love. The reason that it is SO IMPORTANT to save your Precious Gift That You Can Only Give Away ONCE — did you hear me? ONCE!! ONCE ONLY!! THINK ABOUT THAT before you let some hormone-addled boy with only one thing on his mind separate you from your Calvins — is that many terrible things will befall you if you don’t. You might get a Loathsome Disease. (This scare tactic was very popular in the ’80s.) You will Have Regrets (this can range from good, old-fashioned guilt to terrible lingering memories of someone other than your spouse to learned behaviors, desires, and expectations that your future spouse will not share, therefore paralyzing and ruining your marriage). Last but not least, and actually not mentioned so often now that birth control, contraceptives, abortion, and lack of societal pressure to marry exist, you might get pregnant. Bottom line? TEEN SEX = BAD. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it. And don’t even think about doing it with someone who’s done it, much less actually do it with someone who’s done it, because I think we all know what that makes you, hmm?
However, if you are 20 or older, you hear almost zero admonitions to maintain your virginity (or to remain abstinent in the wake of divorce or being widowed). It’s like the church either assumes adult singles are so negligible in number that it’s not worth devoting a message to sexual purity after high school, or it assumes that single adults already “know,” so there’s no point in repeating such a message. I think this is a mistake. Most single adults live on their own, or at least apart from their parents, and are financially independent. They are steeped in a culture which expects and often encourages non-marital sex, and their own bodies have been biologically ready to go for at least a decade and oftentimes more. Who is more likely to give in, a teenage girl armed with teenage fervor for serving the Lord and teenage idealism for the Perfect Romance, or a 29-year-old with her own apartment who finally has a man interested in her after longing for a relationship for the past 15 years?
In addition, if you are a single adult who has managed to remain a virgin, the church’s attitude about marrying another virgin pretty much amounts to “eh.” All of the True Love Waits admonitions from high school go poof, and you’re stuck with, “Suck it up, you’re not entitled to marry a virgin just because you’re still a virgin, and I can’t even believe you would put virginity on a pedestal. Who do you think you are? We’re all sinners in need of redemption. Hmmph.” Most single adults in the church, especially those over the age of 30, understand that realistically, there’s a next-to-none chance of marrying a virgin, but it smarts when all your life you’ve heard “Virginity Matters A LOT” messages…only to discover that these messages have an expiration date. All of the messages about how important it is to wait and to share the Greatest Intimacy Ever only with your spouse suddenly become, “Well, does he (or she) feel bad about it? Really, REALLY bad about it? Has this person been keeping their pants on since starting to feel bad about it? Yeah? Well, then shut up and settle.”
I’m still trying to reconcile these two messages. I understand the spiritual and general societal reasons to promote virginity to the youth. Teenagers are swimming in hormonal upheaval and don’t have the emotional or financial means to deal well with any fallout. But what about adulthood makes virginity so less important? Is it better coping mechanisms? More pragmatism? Or maybe the church is just quietly accepting that most single adults are no longer virgins and through silence is acknowledging that it would be ~awkward~ to talk about it and make those single adults feel bad about something they presumably have already repented of.