The virginity pledge that ‘nearly destroyed’ Samantha Pugsley.

In an essay called “My Christian virginity pledge nearly destroyed me”, which published on XOJane and Salon earlier this month, Samantha Pugsley vilified the pledge she signed in childhood at church. With it, she had vowed at 10 years old — while she still thought boys were icky — to maintain her virginity until marriage. And she did.

But “there was no chorus of angels, no shining light from Heaven” when on her wedding night, she finally had sex. Instead, she cried in the bathroom afterward. She dreaded sex for the first couple years of her marriage, she wrote, but obliged when her husband — who had no idea she dreaded it — initiated. When she worked up the courage to express her struggle to him, he was horrified to learn that she had “let him touch (her) when (she) didn’t want him to.” He suggested she see a therapist, and she did. That “was the first step on a long journey to healing.”

Pugsley’s widely circulated story has raised concern in some readers, who wonder now whether saving sex for marriage is a bad idea. It has “confirmed” for other readers their belief that what Christianity says about sex harms the people who hear it. But what Pugsley wrote — and what others who grew up in churches like hers have written — has not acknowledged a paramount truth:

What her church taught her about sex is not what churches are supposed to teach about sex, because what her church taught her doesn’t align with Christianity.

Somebody at Pugsley’s church taught her “it was entirely possible that (her) future husband wouldn’t remain pure for (her), because he didn’t have that same responsibility, according to the bible.”

First: Fairly certain that by “pure,” Pugsley’s church meant “a virgin until marriage.” But the definition of “pure” is not “a virgin until marriage.” Our behavior doesn’t make us pure. Jesus makes us pure. “Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins (CCC 2520).” The CCC continues: “But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires.” The deal was never “you are pure until you behave a certain way” but “you can be pure despite how you’ve behaved, because Jesus.” That’s what makes grace amazing. It is not our behavior that results in purity, but acknowledgment of purity that compels us to behave in certain ways, and to reconcile with Christ, others, and ourselves if and when — inevitably, in one way or another — we don’t.

Second: A church that says women are supposed to save sex for marriage but men aren’t is a church that makes me so grateful to be Catholic. In Catholicism, what compels us to abstain from sex outside marriage is the virtue of chastity, which is for men and women, regardless of whether they’re single, married, or religious. “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person”  — male people and female ones (CCC 2337).

People at Pugsley’s church told her “over and over again, so many times (she) lost count, that if (she) remained pure, (her) marriage would be blessed by God and if (she) didn’t that it would fall apart and end in tragic divorce.”

In other words, Pugsley was taught that if she saved sex, her marriage would last and if she didn’t save sex, it wouldn’t, which is an inadequate if not tragic way to prepare a person for marriage. To teach children that abstinence before marriage causes a marriage to last is to risk setting kids up to become adults who are wildly unprepared to be spouses, who’ll be blindsided by what arises in everyday life after their weddings.

Even if implicitly, to teach that encourages tunnel vision — a focus so solely on not having sex that young men and women don’t see whether red flags pop up in other parts of a relationship. But having saved sex for marriage doesn’t negate the problems you didn’t notice while you dated. Churches (and parents) have painstakingly identified sex as good or bad based on when it happens but have neglected to teach kids what sex is, or what marriage is, or what love is, or how to date in ways that aren’t completely dysfunctional. They grow up not knowing that love, not premarital abstinence, is what causes a marriage to last. Churches like Pugsley’s seem to teach abstinence and hope it inspires people to love when teaching love — real love — is going to inspire people to practice the virtue of chastity, which requires us to abstain from nonmarital sex.

What Pugsley’s church taught her meant that when she got home from her honeymoon, she “couldn’t look anyone in the eye.” She wrote: “Everybody knew my virginity was gone. My parents, my church, my friends, my co-workers. They all knew I was soiled and tarnished.”

To all who encourage nonmarital abstinence by telling children that sexual activity soils us: Can you not? “The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity (CCC 2335).” Nobody told Pugsley that. Instead, in an effort to discourage sexual activity outside marriage, people told Pugsley that sex is dirty, which is why she cried in the bathroom on her wedding night. She had done a bad thing, as far as she was concerned, because of what she always had been taught. But sex is not bad. True Christianity never said it was. Telling kids that it is in order to prevent premarital sex is irresponsible.

While Pugsley began to undo the damage done by what her church taught her, she decided she couldn’t be both religious and sexual, she wrote. So she picked sex. Hers is one of several stories I’ve read about people whose experiences in this realm have resulted in their rejection of Christianity. The saddest part is that people who reject Christianity because people in their churches taught them what people in Pugsley’s church taught her have likely never been told that what people in Pugsley’s church taught her does not align with Christianity — and, to borrow a quote from Christopher West, “it’s important that we not confuse the mind of the Church with the mind of the people in the Church.”

Click here to read Pugsley’s post in full.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • txagsw

    How sad that she was not taught that sex is a beautiful gift from God and that is why we save it!

    • Carlie Withenshaw

      oh come on.

  • Caro

    There are a couple of important things here… when we talk about chastity-virginity, etc in a couple…… it’s meant to be in a couple. If just one party is agree in this or if the decision was made just by one person…. we are in problems. The fact of not having sex doesn’t mean that the couple doesn’t have to talk about it. So in her case (was she missing a good communication with her couple? ). Also everything it is a process if we are not clear or comfortable why don’t choose to talk to our couples about it? it is not a must to have sex on you hooney moon (I think )

  • LR

    You’ve highlighted the fact that many of Samantha’s ideas about sex were due to bad ‘education’ – I.e, getting the wrong ideas about what sex is.

    However, I would be grateful if you could shed some light on what the church considers ‘sex’. I hope I make sense. I ask this because one of Samantha’s ‘anxieties’ was ‘how far is too far’ – whether even kissing was acceptable.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Great question, LR! Let me put some thought into this and address it in a future post.

      • LR

        Sure, Arleen. I look forward to this! Thanks.

        • Rivka

          I look forward to it as well.

  • Rivka

    A sad sad story.

  • I’ve noticed that stories like hers (“I waited until marriage, but that was a mistake”) are never written by Catholics.

    • Well in that case I should write mine, although mine is more “I didn’t wait until marriage and I’m glad I didn’t wait. And oh by the way I DO have a that wonderful, monogamous marriage that I was told I couldn’t have if I didn’t wait.”

      • I’m sorry that you were told you couldn’t have a good marriage if you didn’t wait. That’s not quite the right message, either. Moses was a murderer, David killed a man and stole his wife, and Peter lied about even knowing Jesus. Glory has come from sins other than not waiting until marriage for sex. They all repented, though.

  • Bret Everett Schlisner

    Sadly, there are millions and millions of people who have been taught by their churches what Pugsley was taught. Also, sadly, those churches are all functions of the Catholic system in that they are trying to reform from it. Christianity is as Christianity does–a big system of 41,000 denominations including the Mother Catholic Church. Even when we try to say there is some pure form of Christianity, that purity does not seem to appear, because that pure form unfortunately doesn’t actually exist. The irony in this is that Spenceley’s claim in a “pure Christianity” is the exact same reasoning that created the “pure marriage” message that keeps her a virgin and Pugsley jilted.

  • Nana Ato Dadzie

    “First and foremost the only person to blame is yourself. Where I come from 90% of the girls stay virgin until marriage and none of them have any such thoughts. In fact they stay devout members forever. So where is the problem? It is in your society and also in yourself. Your statement that your virginity became your “identity” tells how delusional you are. It also has a lot to do with the society around you and that society should be whom you should blame instead of blaming the church. The fact that staying Virgin is something like an achievement in your society tells a lot about it.
    It is just like holding off to drive a car until you get a license. Can you drive a car before that? Yes! Should you drive it before that? No! But what if everyone around you drives a car before getting a license and you are the only one who abstains? In your case “not driving a car” becomes your “identity” and then finally when you get your license and drive one you feel like you have lost your identity and that your guardians have cheated you!
    This article may by far feature in the top 10 stupidest articles ever.”

  • Nana Ato Dadzie

    this is one case and there maybe more like this out there. But it is also true that there are people who remained virgin (whether by personal decisions or encouraged by Church) until they married and they are happy and proud about the decision they took..Please, what happened to her other friends who also remained virgin till they got married?. This article is from a satanist who just want to break the moral fibre of society…. They first started by attacking prayer and made people to think that long prayers are not necessary. Satanists pay and send women or prostitute to go and seduce roman fathers, other priests and pastors! They pay and send ex-boyfriends and ex-girl friends to go and seduce their formal partners…especially those who had sex before marriage —-knowing that the victims could remember the past and succumb…. Videos are taken and posted to disgrace religious based marriages. his is a formulated story to make girls think it is not necessary to abstain from pre-marital sex. Abstinence from pre-marital sex actually benefit both men and women…not women alone. Even before Christianity, a considerable number of men and women abstained until marriage…. My father married at 29 years and he was a virgin…. And my mother to was a virgin at the same time… Some of you men and women will be in support of this bad article but if your daughter is the one that wants to do the same, I doubt your opinion will remain the same. Isaac bonney is 37 years old and he is a virgin, Kofi Assibu is 32 years old and is a virgin, Kwame is 30 years old and is a virgin…. Ohene Adu is 38 years old and will be marrying shortly…he is a virgin.. Francis Married at 37 years…just about three months ago..he was a virgin… In the same way there are many ladies who are virgins not only because they are Christians but also because they know what is best for them..

    • Charlotte Knight

      Nothing like a bunch of delusional blathering to clear things up. Thanks. o_0

  • fiesta0618

    Unfortunately, this whole article falls prey to the “No true Scotsman” fallacy…

  • mary

    There is nothing enlightening about samantha’s destructive piece of article. Sadly there are girls who believed her and followed her advice and jumped into sex only to regret it bitterly, not because sex is bad, but because they did not have sex within the right context;i.e. marriage. And now those girls are lamenting themselves for following the advice of someone who had a twisted idea about sex. Just because samantha had a wrong idea about sex which ended up hurting her does not mean that the teaching of preserving sex until marriage is wrong. Quite the contrary, it is the only way that the meaning of sex is preserved, otherwise, sex is turned into some consumption activity no different than eating, drinking, and urinating. Please people, realize that what hurt samathansa was not that she preserved her virginity until marriage, but because she thought that when she has sex with her husband, she loses her purity and sanctity, which is non-Biblical and non-Christian. Christianity does not say that married couples are less pure than virgins, quite the contrary, both married and non-married virgins are chaste. Married couples, while non-virgins, are chaste, because they did not “lose” their virginity but as in a sense of becoming impure, but rather “exchanged” their virginity; gave their virginity; their first touch to each other.

  • Austin Kennedy

    I’m not so sure her Church was to blame. If you read other articles that Samantha Pugsley has written she talks about how she “can’t have a real job” her words because she has intense anxiety. When she worked a grocery checkout a customer yelling at her because she rang up apricots as apples caused her to have a panic attack in the bathroom. Later when she worked as a medical receptionist she would obsess over emails from her coworkers looking for hidden messages about how much they hated her. She works as a freelance writer, because of this problem. Obviously she needed professional help which she acknowledged and is now receiving. When a person has that much anxiety over pretty routine daily encounters with other people why wouldn’t sex be traumatic?