Justice

Why People Become Born-Again Virgins

September 13th 2015

By:
Laura Donovan

During high school sex ed, a self-proclaimed "born-again virgin" lectured my class one day on the value of abstinence until marriage. Having previously slept with seven different women, he became celibate after embracing Christianity to live what he felt was a more meaningful existence. On our final day of the program, he encouraged everyone in class to sign a virginity contract.

'When your wedding night arrives, you'll be so happy you can show this pledge to your spouse and say you've waited your entire life to give them this sheet of paper,' he said. 'Your virginity will be theirs and only theirs forever.'

One of my classmates roared with laughter and called this outrageously cheesy and unrealistic. I agreed, but more than anything else, I couldn't understand why our speaker was so fixated on virginity. Did we really need to save ourselves for marriage to have fulfilling sex lives and relationships? The older I got, the more I found fault with this approach to sexuality, especially since the speaker told the sexually active students that it "wasn't too late" for them to "revirginize" and reclaim their self-respect. That idea that they had done something wrong, to me, was flawed.

The rise of abstinence education and born-again virgins

More people started embracing the concept of born-again virginity in the 1990s and early 2000s with the rise of abstinence education. As noted by Newsweek, the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 sparked the abstinence education movement by promising $50 million every year in Title V abstinence education grants, which were required to be spent on programs that promote "abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children." Data from the Congressional Budget Office shows that abstinence education funding doubled while former President George W. Bush was in office, going from $80 million in 2001 to $200 million in 2007.

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Who becomes a born-again virgin?

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People often become born-again virgins for religious reasons and to appease their families. Though they have had sex before, they vow to abstain from intercourse until marriage.

"Born-again is a term that has meaning in the context of evangelical Christianity--to be 'born-again' means one has had a conversion experience and has accepted Jesus into one's life," Pamela Dickey Young, a professor of religion and culture and women's studies at Queen's University, told ATTN:.

"'Born-again virgin' is a term that is sometimes coined to talk about reclaiming one's virginity (as a religious good) after one has 'technically' lost it, i.e., after one has had experience of sexual intercourse," Dickey Young said. "Although men sometimes claim born-again virginity, too, it is largely young women who make such claims."

Societal value placed on virginity can often be attributed to Christianity, Dickey Young explains.

"The born-again part is driven by a specific understanding of the Christian faith that values virginity, marriage and commitment to one person for life," Dickey Young said. "Christians have prized virginity since about the 2nd century but different churches have different views of whether that should be updated and how."

Why become a born-again virgin?

When I was in sex ed, I couldn't help wondering why our speaker had to give himself the title of born-again virgin. Couldn't he, and others, for that matter, simply commit to abstinence until marriage without attaching a name to the decision? Voicing one's intention to abstain until marriage, however, keeps people accountable for their own actions, Dickey Young explains.

"A public naming of one's intentions often does create accountability," Dickey Young said.

Not all born-again virgins, however, wish to go into detail about their decision with the world. Two years ago, "The Bachelor" suitor Sean Lowe was surprised when the media and fans collectively fixated on the fact that he was a born-again virgin.

“I’m shocked,” he told the Daily Beast. “I don’t know why every tabloid feels the need to talk about it."

Why women face a lot of pressure to be virgins

In a culture where female purity is glorified, women are labeled "sluts" and "whores" for having too many sexual partners, and men are conversely rewarded for sleeping with lots of different people, females face a lot of pressure surrounding virginity and sex.

Several years ago, MSNBC interviewed then 23-year-old Victoria Watts, who grew up in a religious household and had sex with her high school boyfriend as a teenager. Watts felt so awful about sleeping with him that she ultimately decided to become a born-again virgin to make up for her past decision.

“I felt really bad from a religious standpoint,” she said. “My thoughts were really clouded because I was so emotionally bonded with my boyfriend. That overshadowed my religious world.”

She expressed regret over not being a virgin because that means she won't be able to fully give herself to her future husband. After a lot of prayer, she started calling herself a born-again virgin.

"I know my [future] husband deserves a whole person," she said. “The most important thing was to realize what my values were and what I want in the future and the bigger goals in my life," she says. "That’s why I can call myself a renewed virgin.”

Like Watts, many women take the born-again virgin route out of shame.

"Shame is certainly a factor and a tool that religions use to regulate sexual behavior," Dickey Young told ATTN:. "Where virginity is a value, losing virginity can lead to shame. Reclaiming virginity can allow one to hold one's head up with pride in the community. Those who are not Evangelical Christians would be unlikely to use the term 'born-again virgin.'"

Women in some cultures might try to become born-again virgins for safety reasons, as certain cultures punish premarital sex by death.

"Certainly other cultures and forms of religion have used sanctions (sometimes very dangerous to women) to enforce virginity. The more dangerous the sanction, the less likely a woman would be to admit she has had premarital sex."

Dr. Red Alinsod, a gynecologist, told MSNBC in 2008 that he's had many patients pay thousands of dollars to get a new hymen after losing their virginity. Some of them want to do it for their "honor," but their lives could also depend on it.

“These women are very scared,” Alinsod said. “The majority do fear for their lives. So this is a life-saving procedure in the majority of women I deal with. They are afraid they will be killed by the youngest member of their family, or the youngest member of the groom’s family."