Virgin territory

How do you fight the urge when you’ve met the one?

Father Anthony, Ted Firch and Paul Geisert are confronted by the 22-year-old virgin and his personal battle pitting faith against biology.

Father Anthony, Ted Firch and Paul Geisert are confronted by the 22-year-old virgin and his personal battle pitting faith against biology.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

To help bridge the gap between the “Have-Gods” and “Have-Nots,” SN&R brings together faith leaders each week and pitches them the real-life ethical questions that spring from their communities. Venturing beyond biblical references and high-minded philosophies, our hope is to give voice to the complexity, insight and compassion inherent to any spiritual calling. And while we’re breaking bread with the godly, we might also shed light on some unfounded stereotypes.

There is a rare breed of humans walking this Earth who, despite being biologically fit for action, have decided to hold on to something other people are all too eager to give up: their virginity.

While some religious denominations have adapted their teachings to reflect the changing social standards—and the ever-increasing marriage age—the word on the street remains, pre-marital nookie is a sin with a capital “S.” Yet for many individuals whose virginity is rooted in religious beliefs, the day comes when even God isn’t big enough to quell the potency of desire. Whether motivated by peer pressure, true love or plain old-fashioned lust, “evil concupiscence” suddenly starts to look a whole lot like blissful surrender. Any way you slice it, no choice is quite so personal, or so often fraught with anxiety, than the loss of one’s maidenhead. Case in point:

I’m a 22-year-old virgin. I’ve always intended to wait until marriage, but I recently started dating a girl who is making me reconsider. She is everything I could want in a partner. However, when we start getting intimate, I get so afraid that I have to stop. I don’t know if I’m afraid of the spiritual repercussions, the risks involved or some emotional block. How do I break through this?

To help our theoretical virgin struggling with indecision, SN&R called upon a Franciscan priest, Father Anthony of St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral; a progressive Christian pastor, Ted Firch of First Christian Church; and Paul Geisert, co-director of the Naturalist organization Brights’ Net. After feasting on curry and steamed rice from Amarin Thai Cuisine, we watched them squirm, confess and commiserate over how best to proceed under sexual duress.

“First, get information about the risks involved,” began Geisert. “Those issues can easily be addressed with the plethora of information out there. Secondly, there’s no question he’s got an emotional block. As for the spiritual repercussions … ”

Geisert looked down at the paper in front of him and began methodically smoothing its surface with the length of his pen. You could almost see the wheels turning. How does a man with a naturalistic worldview, which is based on the belief that the world is free of any supernatural elements (such as deities), approach “spiritual repercussions” in the presence of religious clergy?

The Brights’ Net is not, Geisert emphasized, “anti-religious.” Rather, it is a civic liberties organization dedicated to equal rights, supporting a constituency of 35,000 members in 142 nations. The 1,000 registered individuals who reside in Sacramento run the gamut from atheists and agnostics to Jews and Buddhists. Still, there was a slight hesitation as Geisert chose his next words.

“Institutions lay down laws that are not conducive to evolved society,” he said. While churches “lock people in to certain circumstances,” a naturalist exercises “enormous trust in the individual. By acknowledging that humans make the rules, we have a freer capability of saying that sexuality is a part of me.

“This person,” he concluded, referring to our beleaguered virgin, “is bound by arbitrary rules.”

Before the discussion could shift from rational to mystical, Geisert offered up a more personal view:

“I was a 21-year-old virgin,” he admitted. It’s natural, he said, for couples to bond and explore sexuality together. The key is overcoming the social and institutional conditioning that has taught us there is only one way of operating. “No rule I see can be applied to every individual or circumstance.”

Father Anthony was more animated, but equally ambiguous in his response. A lively, spectacled man who came to the priesthood 37 years ago, Anthony is the kind of approachable priest who will get you laughing in his homily during Sunday Mass.

“This is the first sexual encounter,” he pointed out, “and if the person isn’t willing to open up, then there’s not enough trust.”

A recovering alcoholic who understands the sin-and-forgiveness process, Father Anthony is no stranger to guilt. “Coming from the Catholic Church,” he said with his signature snorting laugh, “I can tell you guilt is actually not a bad thing.” Guilt serves to prevent negative behavior. Shame, on the other hand, is a toxic self-view that only perpetuates destructive cycles. “God doesn’t like shame,” Anthony told us. In fact, “God covers Adam and Eve so they don’t experience shame.”

When posed the question, “If I have sex before marriage, am I a sinner?” Father Anthony shifted in his seat.

“Poison’s poison regardless of the dosage. But everyone’s a sinner. I’m a sinner. That doesn’t mean God stops loving me.”

Pastor Firch, who was ordained in 1985 in the Disciples of Christ fellowship, stepped in with a more liberal perspective. “He’s not talking to the girl,” he pointed out about our test virgin. “Get some emotional intimacy going. It could be that the woman can help him through this.”

Firch spoke from direct experience. “This was exactly me,” he said. While attending college in the 1970s, he struggled with the decision to have sex. To avoid making a mistake he may have later regretted, he followed his own advice.

“[My girlfriend and I] sat down over coffee and decided we wanted to wait. We broke up a couple months later over other issues, but I was glad we had had that openness.”