Dear Mary Beth,
I have read your response to “Holding Out” with great interest. I struggle with the same issue, and perhaps even deeper, as not only would I avoid dating divorced women, I have hesitations about any woman with a sexual past. Your response was very helpful to me.
I struggle deeply with my own sexual desires on a daily basis and am deeply crushed when I compare what I have been taught about sex and Catholicism to the sexual activity of women, especially in today’s world. So now in my mind I am looking for a woman with little or no “life experiences,” as you phrased your response. However, I know this is not realistic – and frankly, I create some of those “life experiences” for women.
I share this with you because I suspect many Catholic men share the same “beliefs” and view many women as sinful, despite these men having their own “life experiences.” Double standard and hypocritical, absolutely, but it is what many men of my generation grew up with. This believing in “holding out” is a deep-rooted seed, fostered by my Catholic upbringing, but my life experience has taught me it is a fallacy.
Thus, I too would prefer a non-married, non-divorced, non-widowed, childless, virgin woman – despite my own marriage, divorce, annulment, children and mature age. I realize this is not going to happen and find strength in St. Joseph’s compassion when he chose to be with and stay with St. Mary despite her humanly inexplicable impregnation, which the Catholic Church reveres.
Again, I found your response helpful for my own self-reflection, as I admit to having my own insecurities, jealousies, and possessiveness issues, but it is the Catholic Church that taught me to desire a woman of pure heart, mind, body, and soul.
-Reflecting & Reconsidering
“Reflecting” didn’t ask a question, but I wanted to share some excerpts from his letter because I thought it was an honest and very courageous note to write and also because he brings up some points that provide an excellent opportunity for follow-up.
First, the letter from “Reflecting” helps illustrate the origins of some of this thinking. Sex is in many ways much more personal for women.
Of course, sexual expression speaks a language, and it should be deeply intimate and personal for everyone. But female biology and wiring makes it more obviously personal for women. It happens inside of her body. She’s the one who risks pregnancy. She, being the receiving partner, is at far greater risk of sexually transmitted disease and is more vulnerable to serious side effects as a result of those diseases.
A woman is also more vulnerable on an emotional level. She produces more of the bonding hormone oxytocin in sexual activity. She is often more deeply hurt at the break-up of a sexual relationship.
Basically, the stakes are much higher for her.
Men are thus often in “awe” of feminine sexuality. And sensitive men who understand the level of self-gift and vulnerability that is inherent in the act are often horrified when they see women use that gift carelessly or when they imagine a woman they love giving that gift to someone else.
That much I get.
2 cents from JPII
But the thinking goes kind of off-track from there, as “Reflecting” recognizes.
First, often these men fail to recognize that their own sexuality, and their own sexual sin, matters as well. Blessed John Paul II, describing Jesus’ defense of the woman caught in adultery, wrote in Mulieris Dignitatem:
“Is not this woman, for all her sin, above all a confirmation of your own transgressions, of your ‘male’ injustice, your misdeeds?”
I obviously can’t judge every case or every man who feels this way, but I suspect that there is sometimes a certain level of projection going on – projecting their guilt or struggle with their own sin onto a woman.
I’ve found that men who insist upon marrying virgins often invoke the defense that they want to be confident that their wives won’t cheat on them. I’m not sure whether they’re expressing a concern they honestly believe is legitimate or whether it’s a cover for their own “insecurities, jealousies, and possessiveness issues.”
Either way, it’s a crock.
Yes, a woman who has shown and continues to show a cavalier attitude about the significance of sexual intimacy would be a bad bet as a spouse. But it is monstrously unfair to lump her into the same category as a woman who gave herself to a man in a relationship (or relationships, or a marriage, etc.) she hoped would work or a woman who has learned of her value and dignity of her sexuality only after making mistakes.
That woman is no more an infidelity risk than a woman without a past – and to automatically cast her under a cloud of suspicion is really highly insulting to her and to all women who have struggled or suffered losses.
A ‘spotless bride’
Here we come to the crux of the issue.
Of course we’d all like a spouse who is pure as the driven snow – not just sexually but in every way. God, in the same way, desires a “spotless” bride in us, the Church.
But guess what?
He doesn’t get that in this fallen world, and neither do we. We’re all wounded – whether the wounds are sexual or spiritual or physical or just plain old, garden-variety failure to love. We’re all seeking healing and wholeness – some in a healthy ways, some still in misguided ways.
The good news is that He can make us spotless, to the extent we turn to Him. He can take the baggage, the mistakes, the losses, the spurned self-gift, and turn it into something beautiful. The emotional and spiritual scar tissue may remain, but even that can be a gift in the strength and the healing that it offers.
Yes, Scripture speaks of a “spotless” bride, but don’t confuse “spotless” with “shrink-wrapped.” A woman (or a man) can possess a pure heart, mind, body and soul despite – or in some ways, because of – mistakes or hurts or losses in the past.
God does that for us. He writes straight with crooked lines. He brings beauty out of pain, life from death.