Why valorize the concept of a sex life simply because it’s a sex life?

–Sophie Fontanel

I’ve been a good girl for as long as I can remember. I don’t like to jaywalk, I prefer eating desserts after meals, always after noon. And I’m morbidly respectful and afraid of the law keepers. I literally stop breathing when I see a law enforcement officer.

It makes sense, in a way, that I was a virgin on my honeymoon. This was a rule that I would rather die than break (a fear that has driven more than one good, Christian girl to Planned Parenthood).  I was raised by  protective parents who screened ever boy who wanted to take me anywhere. Literally, anytime a guy wanted to drive me, dine me, date me (a loose definition in my home including any one-on-one activity), he would be invited to my home for a meal and a talk with my father about his 911 Porshe. They’d walk into the garage to marvel at its power and beauty. Then, came the one-liner my father was renown for, “My daughter is worth much, much more than my Porshe. Don’t spin the wheels.”

It was a talk that became a classic. I’m still realizing how much it meant to me. I see that it cost my dad something to give it. Embarrassing though it was to watch every guy screened (I always wondered if they’d stick around after the talk), annoying though it felt that my father made them responsible for me (“If you’re late,” he’d say, “I’ll hold you responsible.”), my dad protected me in a way many fathers do not protect their daughters.

I’ve written a lot about how the purity culture enshrines virginity with more pricelessness (and more shame) than Jesus ever did (Breaking Shame: Why Purity Culture Works), but those posts need the balancing weight, I believe, of the value of virginity in the first place.

I figure it’s time to talk about a few benefits of virgin living.

Before I launch in, let me give two important caveats. Not all women get to choose. A growing number of women (and men) were not consulted when a man violated their bodies. The violation of rape turns a woman’s body against her, creating something both horrifying and pleasing in her sexual organs, compounding shame and fear of her sexual power. I don’t want to pretend that virginity is an option for all women, because it’s not. And there’s not just cases of rape to contend with, there are those who are pressured or so hungry for belonging that sex seems to provide satiation: that of being known and loved and belonging. That sex does or does not satiate is not the point here.  I think of Jason Bourne (a fictional character, I know) who finds himself making love to the only woman who cares about him (no, they’re not married). As the camera pans out, the hotel’s name is revealed, “Hôtel de la Paix” (Hotel of Peace). Sometimes illegitimate sex still brings peace (consider if Tamar felt peace as she finally conceived twin descendant for the line of her dead husband, even though she played a prostitute with her father-in-law to secure her pregnancy. Gen 28). I’m not saying I think sex outside of marriage is good (though it can feel good and even cause good, see Sarah Moon’s Once Upon a Cheap Hotel Room for more), however God used Tamar even for the line for his son to come into the world (Matt 1:3). That gives me pause. So I write about the blessings of virginity, not to shame those who have been violated or to shame those who have chosen sexual activity as a way to enjoy, belong, find love. I actually believe the grief of rape becomes even clearer when we realize the significance of virginity and the violated right to choose who will enter our sacred space.

Second, I’m about to talk so passionately about the benefits of virgin living, some may wish to psychoanalyze me as speaking of a personal wish. This would be a mistake.

I’ve just finished Sophie Fontanel’s memoir The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave Up Sex, a sensual story of vulnerable desires (WSJ Review, The Telegraph Review) in which we learn that Fontanel knows virginal living is the “worst insubordination of our times.”

An editor for the fashion magazine, Elle, Fontanel still decides, “I’ve had it with being taken and rattled around. I’ve had it with handing myself over. I’d say yes too much. I hadn’t taken into account the tranquility my body required.”

She dares to be different and observes the reaction of her admiring, then bemused, then alarmed friends and ex-lovers. She becomes a holy woman, sealed off from normal sexual practice and suddenly a confidante for all her friend’s sexual trials. With complete lack of ethical or religious motivation, Fontanel gives an apologetic for virginity as a good gift to oneself.

She lands on my favorite reason to respect those who choose to sleep alone. Virgin blessings begin with a sacred place where none can enter or rattle or leak their juices on our flesh. Virginity  always entails more cleanliness (ph balance of the vagina alone), virginity means less visits to the doc. There’s less new flora and fauna entering and leaving. We have time for our bodies’ divine pleasures, unnecessary are the personal grooming habits requested by our lovers.  Soap and bubbles are for our bodies’ smells, not to wash off another’s scent on our skin. Virginity means more privacy, more bubble baths without a thought for our next bare presentation.

Virginal blessing number two: more energy.  Let me be frank that sex takes time, and energy, and a bit of exhaustion if you make your body available regularly (because you want to, of course). Virgins have more energy to pool for other things. As Fontanel puts it, “The most interesting characters exist above sex. It’s not an infirmity. They simply have better things to do with their lives.”

Virginal blessing number three: touch means more.  Fontanel devotes a wonderful chapter to discovering the way a masseuse coaxed out something hidden in her body. “A little faun destined for delight had been crouched waiting inside me, having hidden under a chest of drawers during my great invasions. Now the faun was coming back to life.” The physical contact taught Fontanel her contours, her boundaries. “A woman in a clinging silk jersey understand what that dress contains. Dreamily, she verifies herself.” When you are not touched except for a handshake or a tap on the arm by a stranger, every time a man takes you by the eyes and holds your gaze, you notice.  Any time a friend reaches to hug you and keeps you warm in their embrace, you catch your breath. The kiss goodnight holds more focus, the rub on your back means more sensual delight because you are not being taken. Your hands become your own, your stomach and eyes, and earlobes, neck and thighs are yours, again.

Virginal blessing number four: your turn to suggest a few more.