Masculinity and Virginity
By Matthew McClister
Virginity comes with a stigma. Virgins are portrayed as naïve in our movies and TV shows. See virtually any teenage “coming of age” movie in recent history for an example. Virgins are cute and we root for them to one day have sex in spite of themselves. The virgin stereotype is typically negative for men and women, but in this article, we’re only going to look at the virgin stereotype as it applies to men.
Men who haven’t had sex are… well… can we even call them men? Many cultures have a rite of passage into manhood, and losing your virginity is one of, if not THE, rite in ours. Like all sinful activities, the contest doesn’t end with virginity, but has to go farther. If sleeping with one woman shows your masculinity, then imagine ten, or a hundred. The more women that can be “conquered,” the more manly you are, but at the very least don’t be a virgin! They’re the lowest on the totem pole.
This portrayal of masculinity – which has been reinforced so much that it feels natural to us – must be reversed for disciples of Christ. Our culture filters its thoughts through lies about the world, and until we discover these lies, we do the same. Losing your virginity (outside of marriage) is a sign of weakness, not a path to manhood. How would the “masculine logic” of giving in to a temptation apply to almost any other endeavor? If you stopped halfway through an exercise program, would that make you manlier? Does indulging in that dessert represent your strength? Not even people in the world would agree with this logic, yet somehow it’s logical when applied to sexuality: weakness – giving in = manliness. Virginity falls under the broader category of sexual boundaries, which itself falls under the broader category of self-control, which takes discipline and true strength.
Though the strength of self-control has been turned into an apparent weakness, a moment’s reflection will expose the foolishness of such a portrayal of masculinity. Who was more of a man: Esau, the “man’s man” who was hairy and could hunt, but had no self-control when he needed it most, or Joseph, who ran away from a beautiful woman’s seduction? Hint: Joseph didn’t run away because he was a coward. Satan wants us to flip these stories around and champion Esau’s version of masculinity – a masculinity of weakness. He has successfully done so in the realm of sexuality and will continue.
The passages that refer to abstaining from sex in the Bible show that it is the more difficult route. These passages don’t speak of virginity specifically, but again, virginity falls under the larger category of keeping sex within its God-given bounds. “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). The first two types of eunuchs can’t help that they’re eunuchs, but the third eunuch voluntarily gives up sexual relations. I don’t believe Jesus is saying that some men should literally castrate themselves for the kingdom of heaven, but that some men have taken on the celibate life and it is not an easy thing to accept. Doesn’t that require more strength?
Paul viewed his celibacy as a “gift from God” (1 Cor. 7:7). When he speaks about sexual relations in marriage he tells each party not to “deprive” the other unless it’s been agreed upon. Why? Because you may lose self-control and fulfill the desire in a sinful way (1 Cor. 7:5). For most people the more difficult path is abstinence. Giving in is easier, not “manlier.”
Of course, none of this is to say that the person who has indulged in lustful activities (pornography, fantasy), yet hasn’t actually acted out sexually with a woman is somehow justified. There’s no way to “cheat the system.” Pornography/sensuality (Gal. 5:19) is just as weak and sinful as the actual act of sex outside of marriage, even if you’ve managed to maintain your virginity.
If you want to be a real man, who better to look to than the Son of Man? Jesus is by far the manliest person to live, and he lived his entire life as a virgin. Do you think we would have more respect for Him if he had given in and “conquered” a woman? Jesus conquered the entire world (Eph. 1:20-22)! To the men who are virgins, don’t listen to the world’s lies and don’t be embarrassed at the self-control that is making you stronger and more masculine. Embrace God’s version of manhood by embracing your virginity.
This article applies in principle to women as well. You are not more of a woman because you can attract or “please” a man. True femininity is reversed by Satan in our world as well, but with different emphases as it appeals to womanhood. Everyone can become more human, more of whatever they are (male, female), if they will follow the words of the One who designed them.