In an age of sexual exploration and broad acceptance of sexual activity, virginity has held on to its stigma—and not just if you’re Tim Tebow. Ask any 20-something guy trying to save sex for marriage.
Even as our culture increasingly emphasizes individual choice and freedom, encouraging young people to honor their bodies and wait until they are ready before having sex, most of that messaging isn’t geared toward my demographic. People largely assume that all college-aged men have already had sex, since most of them have.
And here’s the thing: Even as a male student at a conservative Christian university, I still see male virginity carry a stigma. That’s how pervasive our society’s messaging about sex is.
While my school's policies prohibit sexual contact between unmarried students, that doesn’t mean all of us toe the line without a struggle. I’ve watched friends encounter a wide range of expectations and backgrounds while dating. One friend was interested in a woman at school here, and things progressed until he discovered that she wanted only a physical relationship. He felt ashamed that he had to break things off, and some of his friends told him he was crazy for turning her down. The situation made him feel like less of a man.
It’s well-noted how often sexuality over-determines a woman’s reputation; a woman who maintains her purity is characterized as pure and honorable, while one who loses her virginity before marriage or sleeps with many people is deemed loose and immoral (or worse, “damaged goods”). Male sexuality doesn’t line up with this dichotomy as much, even in Christian circles. Instead, like my friend in the example above, virginity hinges on pride. Male ego may take a hit when men speak up about our commitment to abstinence; on the other hand, our pride and sense of manhood gets a boost when we brag about sexual experience.
Some Christian students secretly mock the expectation of virginity, implying that sex is a rite of passage for young men, and that those of us who abstain are missing out. Given that so much of the conversation around purity remains focused on women, many guys hesitate to bring up the topic in small groups or prayer circles—afraid that admitting their struggle makes them weak.
A few men, even in our conservative environment, have made regretful mistakes in past relationships, only to feel shame from youth pastors and Christian friends over their slipups. I’ve also observed how our teachings on lust can cause young men to rationalize their behavior in the moment, thinking, “Well if I've already lusted in my heart, I might as well do it,” or “It's okay, God will forgive me.”
For male students in this Christian context, it feels like a lose-lose issue: it’s hard to bring up your struggle and admit your sin, but it's also hard to talk about virginity.
In most settings, boys are instructed as they grow up to use protection, secure consent, and stay away from pornography. At some point in the church, we begin to assume that most men grasp the gravity of virginity and the impact it has on their lives, and that’s that. In my experience, virginity and the struggle for sexual purity isn’t the kind of ongoing lesson in discipleship that it needs to be. Even when our pastors and leaders continue to teach about virginity, it rarely comes up in our peer groups. As brothers in Christ, we should be able to lean on each other for support—especially during our college years.
I look to Christian women, who seem to be constantly reminded through small groups and studies and books what it means to have a strong, rooted identity as a woman in Christ. They are taught the values of a Proverbs 31 woman, biblical womanhood, and the importance of purity—all learned and lived out in support of one another. What could we men learn from the kinds of lessons being taught to our sisters in Christ? Is there a message in there for us?
Sex is awkward enough to talk about without the pressures of opening up to a pastor. I want to hear more about virginity from men my age—who are empathetic and understand the situation, who are eager to lead others in their walk with the Lord. When we continue to hear society tell us we are “less of a man” for being virgins—and fail to receive a counter-message of encouragement from our brothers in Christ—it keeps men from opening up about their struggles. I believe our silence over male virginity can make them think that it's not worth it.
The choice for me is simple. Marriage is a sacred union between two individuals and the only appropriate context for sex. But the reality of this choice is much more difficult. Turning on a TV, scrolling through Instagram, or reading books, I see sex everywhere. There have been times where I’ve caught myself saying, “It’s just sex” and wondering why I had put so much effort into holding off. However, the Lord intervened in my life before I made a mistake. It’s through his strength that I made it through temptations set before me.
Nothing in our Christian lives is supposed to be ordinary; saving sex for marriage is just one of many challenges and differences of living for Christ. I believe that if more men were confident in their virginity, we could shape society’s notions of masculinity. But for that to happen, we’ll need to become more comfortable discussing the struggle of sexual purity for men, both in the church and especially in our relationships with one another.
Cody Hill is a senior English major at Liberty University and is active within the theatre department.