By Anna Ilona Mussmann
A few years ago I had a conversation with an engaged woman. Even though she held firmly to a Christian view of sexual morality, she also questioned whether such a position was pragmatic enough. Someone had confronted her with the crude but common analogy, “Wouldn’t you test drive the car before you buy it?” and she couldn’t help wondering how likely it was that a virgin couple might wed and then--once it was too late--discover some sort of sexual incompatibility. After all, can you possibly know someone well enough to marry him if you have not yet “known” each other in the Biblical sense?
Christians must deal with the ideology of a culture that defines sex in a way totally divergent from that of Scripture (although we can cling to the knowledge that since God invented sex, it seems pretty clear that He’s the real expert on how to best enjoy it). However, sometimes the conversations that are toughest are not ones centered on philosophy, morality, or theology. Sometimes it’s hardest to answer the people who care only about practicality--the people who live reasonably decent lives but simply don’t believe that, in the context of ordinary existence, an intelligent person can or should reserve sexual intimacy for marriage.
How can we have a productive conversation with these folks? We are unlikely to convert them to a burning admiration for Christian chastity, of course. Yet by defending our beliefs we might be able to spark thoughts that could lead to a meaningful dialogue on human identity, God’s Law, man’s sin, the Gospel, and whether or not Christians are insane hypocrites.
Other writers are better qualified than I am to provide Scriptural exegesis on the deeper theological issues at stake. However, here are some lightweight conversation points that I think are useful when others bring up car-shopping analogies.
We’re Building a Car Together, Not Buying One Off the Lot
Even secular individuals admit that statistically, the most satisfying romantic and sexual relationships are based on mutual love and affection, not on the demand that other people fulfill a highly specific list of sexual preferences, tastes, and desires. When two chaste individuals enter marriage, they are able to build their sexual relationship from the engine up. They are able to shape each others’ preferences, tastes, and desires. Who wouldn’t want a lovingly customized automobile?
Test Driving Doesn’t Screen Out Lemons
If a couple refused to marry until they could witness how the other person handled every major aspect of life (sex, prosperity, disability, camping, child-rearing, unemployment, meddlesome in-laws, weight gain, old age, etc.) they would be dead before they were wed. You simply cannot test drive everything in life. Everyone who ties the knot is taking a calculated risk. They are making the assumption, based on what they already know about the other person’s character, that their partner in life will behave decently in future situations. They are gambling that together (by the grace of God and through His mercy), the two of them will be able to figure out a way to handle future challenges.
A chaste Christian couple hasn’t experienced physical intimacy together, but they should know how the other person generally handles new experiences--especially experiences that do not initially go as expected (after all, building a car isn’t easy even if the end result is pretty schnazzy). They know whether the other person is patient, kind, and giving. They know whether he or she tends to be bossy, demanding, or highly critical. They have a sense for whether this other person’s priorities are to love and serve, or to get what he or she wants. They know enough to be willing to take a plunge into the unknown and promise to cleave to each other so long as they both shall live. Of course it’s a risk. So is the rest of life.
Trading Analogies: Would You Eat Your Chicken While It’s Raw?
Reserving physical intimacy for its proper place doesn’t mean that one does not value it. I like a good chicken stir fry as much as anyone, but I wouldn’t munch down on raw fowl, no matter how badly I wanted to make sure that I would like it once it was cooked and on my plate. It’s possible that I might be tempted to do so if I were truly starving, but I hope that even then, I’d be able to wait. It would be impossible for me to enjoy my meal outside of the proper, fully-cooked context. Just as impossible as trying to drive a car before it’s filled with gas.
Avoiding Trigger Words
When providing counter-arguments to the earnest anti-virgins, I advise staying away from words like “purity.” Nor would I compare someone who is not a virgin to used goods, old chewing gum, or a beaten-up jalopy. Words and phrases like this lead to misunderstanding. To the ears of someone who does not understand Law and Gospel, a term like “purity” is likely to suggest that we Christians think we are better, and therefore more valuable as a human beings, than dirty sinners like themselves. Of course this could not be farther from the truth. We Christians are only too aware of the sinful hearts that make us unworthy both of God’s love and even of the love that comes with marriage. We know that it is only through Christ’s death that we are cleansed. It is His righteousness, not ours, that makes us pure. It may be helpful to articulate the fact that God loves the most promiscuous person on the planet as much as He loves the chaste ones.
Getting to the Real Topic
Ultimately, our attitude toward the gift of marriage (including its physical aspects) is one of delighted gratitude. Our gracious God has given us the gift of a spouse and has granted us the vocation of husband and wife. Instead of explaining that we think we will achieve awesome sex for ourselves by wedding a fellow virgin, we can talk about our own unworthiness, God’s mercy, and the amazing nature of our Lord’s good gifts. Our non-Christian friends may still think that we are crazy, but at least they will know that they can come to us for an explanation of why Christians make choices like waiting to eat our chicken until it’s cooked.
Anna writes as often as she can. After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin she taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their small son (and are awaiting the arrival of baby #2, due in July). Anna's personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.