Empirical evidence in social psychology suggests that there is a societal double standard when it comes to premarital sex, it is the attitude that condemns premarital sex for women but not for men. Studies indicate that women report feeling more pressure to remain a virgin than men do. I am sure many of us have witnessed this attitude within society many times throughout our lives, the attitude that shames women more for engaging in premarital sex than they shame men. This double standard has existed for long, in fact there are even some references in the bible that indicate this attitude existed from the early ages of humanity (see parts of Deuteronomy 22, Numbers 31, Leviticus 21). This, to me, almost suggests that it is innate. Albeit, this double standard may be fading away in the times we live in because of the abundant lack of morality in our culture. The culture that celebrates promiscuity and actively promotes pornography and the exploitation of a woman’s body. The feminist movement has struggled laboriously to extinguish the stigma of females taking “control” over their sex life, and “control” over their bodies. After thousands of years of suffering at the hands of patriarchal oppression women want to be treated like men, we know all of this, therefore it may very well be the opposite now, women are often celebrated for engaging in premarital sex and behaving promiscuously. However, despite all of this, research continues to prove that this pattern goes on, there exists on some deep level, more shame towards women who have premarital sex.
Now, we all know that in the eyes of God, fornication is equally sinful for both men and women, God is not sexist, and He created both men and women in His holy image as His children and He desires them to be close to Him, so it makes sense that His commandments and His will applies to both sexes. The Catholic Church also teaches that the sin of adultery/fornication applies to everyone and a man who has premarital sex is just as culpable and has committed the same sin as the woman he bedded. However, it is possible that even within the Church, through sermons, spiritual readings, youth ministry, et cetera, this attitude prevails and it often peeves us women as to why there seems to be this notion that it is worse for a woman to have premarital sex than it is for a man. This double standard can also be attributed to different cultures, cultures that are prudish and view sex as a taboo topic that is not to be spoken of often view it as more shameful for a woman to lose her virginity outside of marriage than it is for a man. As I previously mentioned there are even some parts in the Bible that point to this human attitude, which I believe is often a product of environmental conditioning. What I mean by that is the social conditioning within families and communities that a woman should be more careful to protect her virginity than a man, it is not necessarily always said outright, however it is heavily implied because of the lack of addressing chastity for men. Which begs the question, why does this attitude exist and where does it come from?
Now, this brings me to think, if we see this attitude both within the Church and the people who are a part of it as well as outside of it in secular society (as research suggests) there must be a reason for it. Even feminists throughout the sexual revolution refer to a woman’s newfound sexual freedom as her having the right to behave as men do, which implies that men have historically behaved more promiscuously than women, and it was socially acceptable. I began to ponder all of this recently and I got to thinking, perhaps this double standard attitude that seems to exist far and wide comes from a deep understanding within the human heart that a woman’s body is sacred, sacred because it belongs to God alone and then her husband. Perhaps people have a subconscious awareness that it is “the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman” as our saintly father John Paul II tells us. Maybe it is inscribed on the heart of every human being by the natural law of God that we have inherent value and worth in our human existence of BODY and soul, that we are so deeply loved and treasured by God. This therefore leads us to know deep in our restless hearts (that are always seeking God whether we know it or not) that since our bodies are so precious and since it is the God-given duty of a man to protect and cherish women, it is wrong to treat a woman as an object, and it is wrong to take her purity. We view a woman’s dignity as more precious and therefore more vulnerable.
So, instead of viewing this attitude as a double standard, I began to think of it almost as a compliment from God that manifests itself in our human frailty and lack of understanding. After all, any time a man commits the sin of fornication a woman is involved as well, so it is ridiculous to assume that the man's action was less of a sin because we are not only responsible for ourselves we are responsible for the sins we cause others to commit. Again, I am not suggesting that it is any less of a sin or an offense to God when a man has premarital sex, it is the same, simply, as it would be if we were judging the action from the woman’s perspective. Whether it be premarital sex from the perspective of the man or the woman, the action conveys an empty and lost search for God, a lie with the body, and a degradation of human dignity. Both are equally wrong. Nonetheless I am reminded by God in my heart that women have a unique beauty and with that beauty that points to God’s glory comes great responsibility. As women, we do have a responsibility to God and to ourselves to protect our own dignity and purity and to make sure that we glorify God in all we do because as women we were made uniquely precious and we must always remember that.
When I think of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception, and the Incarnation of God within Her virginal womb, I can’t help but remember the special gifts that God bestowed upon women and the example that the Blessed Virgin gives us to live a life of virtue. Mother Mary, the most perfect of all of God’s creation hid the child Jesus, God made man, in Her womb, completely and perfectly hidden from the world, and even from St. Joseph at the beginning, which is very symbolic. Her sacred body which was God’s home for nine months reminds me that God created each woman special and unique and we must glorify Him with the beauty He bestowed upon us. Alice Von Hildebrande writes in her book “The Privilege of Being a Woman”, when referring to the symbolism of the hidden mystery that is a woman’s body “the very structure of her body symbolizes a garden that should be carefully guarded, for the keys of this garden belong to God. It is His property in a special sense until He allows the bride-to-be to give the keys to her husband-to-be of what is called, in the Canticle of Canticles, a ‘hortus conclusus’ (‘a closed garden’)”. My point is, that I believe that there is a reason that this societal double-standard attitude exists towards women, and I believe that it comes from the deep knowledge in the human heart that God created women to be respected and protected so that they can fulfill their God-given role to nurture, teach, and love.
I come to this quote by the Venerable Fulton Sheen quite frequently, and it applies well to the message of this post: “To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women”. I hope that one day, all the women of the world may come to know who they are in Christ, that they come to understand their purpose and the unique mission God has for each and every one of them. I hope that they all become the woman that God created them to be. I pray that we all fall in love with Him and His infinite love and mercy daily and that this love reminds us of our worth and the price that was paid by Him for our happiness.