i am damaged goods

I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.

And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.

Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.

He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”

And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!

“This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,” he said seriously, “you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.”

Over the years the messages melded together into the common refrain: “Sarah, your virginity was a gift and you gave it away. You threw away your virtue for a moment of pleasure. You have twisted God’s ideal of sex and love and marriage. You will never be free of your former partners, the boys of your past will haunt your marriage like soul-ties. Your virginity belonged to your future husband. You stole from him. If – if! – you ever get married, you’ll have tremendous baggage to overcome in your marriage, you’ve ruined everything. No one honourable or godly wants to marry you. You are damaged goods, Sarah.”

If true love waits, I heard, then I have been disqualified from true love.

In the face of our sexually-dysfunctional culture, the Church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness.

And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me – and, according to this research, 80% of you are like me –  as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity.

We, the majority non-virgins in the myopic purity conversations,  feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.  In this clouded swirl of shame, our sexual choices are the barometer of our righteousness and worth. We can’t let any one know, so we keep it quiet, lest any one discover we were not virgins on some mythic wedding night. We don’t want to be the object of disgust or pity or gossip or judgement. And in the silence, our shame – and the lies of the enemy – grow.

And so here, now, I’ll stand up and say it, the way I wish someone had said it to me fifteen years ago when I was sitting in that packed auditorium with my heart racing, wrists aching, eyes stinging, drowning and silenced by the imposition of shame masquerading as ashes of repentance:

“So, you had sex before you were married.

It’s okay.

Really. It’s okay.

There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity – or lack thereof – and more than your sexual past.

Your marriage is not doomed because you said yes to the boys you loved as a young woman. Your husband won’t hold it against you, he’s not that weak and ego-driven, choose a man marked by grace.

It’s likely you would make different choices, if you knew then what you know now, but, darling, don’t make it more than it is, and don’t make it less than it is. Let it be true, and don’t let anyone silence you or the redeeming work of Christ in your life out of shame.

Now, in Christ, you’re clear, like Canadian mountain water, rushing and alive, quenching and bracing, in your wholeness.

Virginity isn’t a guarantee of healthy sexuality or marriage. You don’t have to consign your sexuality to the box marked “Wrong.” Your very normal and healthy desires aren’t a switch to be flipped. Morality tales and false identities aren’t the stuff of a real marriage. Purity isn’t judged by outward appearances and technicalities. The sheep and the goats are not divided on the basis of their virginity. (Besides, this focus is weird and over-realized, it’s the flip side of the culture’s coin which values women only for their sexuality. It’s also damaging, not only for you, but for the virgins in the room, too. Really, there’s a lot of baggage from this whole purity movement heading out into the world.)

For I am convinced, right along with the Apostle Paul, that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any other power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.* Not even “neither virginity nor promiscuity” and all points between can separate you from this love. You are loved – without condition – beyond your wildest dreams already.

I would say: Sarah, your worth isn’t determined by your virginity. What a lie.

No matter what that preacher said that day, no matter how many purity balls are thrown with sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance, no matter the purity rings and the purity pledges, no matter the judgemental Gospel-negating rhetoric used with the best of intentions, no matter the “how close is too close?” serious conversations of boundary-marking young Christians, no matter the circumstances of your story, you are not disqualified from life or from joy or from marriage or from your calling or from a healthy and wonderful lifetime of sex because you had – and, heaven forbid, enjoyed – sex before you were married.

Darling, young one burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now: Don’t believe that lie.

You never were, you never will be, damaged goods.”

 

image source, creative commons

Apostle Paul quote from Romans 8:38-39

 


And now:

Two years ago, almost to the day, we published this essay of mine at A Deeper Story. Since ADS will be closing up shop soon, I have slowly been reading my old posts there and backing them up for my own records. I decided to republish this one here today. It remains my most popular Deeper Story post, yes, but it is also one of my most popular ever. At the time when it was written, it was sort of surprise for a Christian woman to write a story like this. And then it went crazy. Comments spiraled out of control. I spent months fielding emails and letters from people who were so relieved, who felt free for the first time from the shame. It was amazing to witness. Of course, I was called horrible names in public, threatened several times. There were dozens and dozens of “response posts” written about me, shaming all over again, but twice as many were written saying, “Me, too! me, too!” Larger conversations about purity and purity culture spun off. I wrote this follow-up at the time.

This is the power of story, I believe. As we always say at A Deeper Story, it’s easy to tell someone your opinion. The hard work is in telling your story. At the time, there were so few places who were willing to “go there” into the wounds and hurts and deeper questions of our faith, so few who were listening to those of us outside of the usual shiny-happy-Jesus-people narratives. I’m so glad I wrote it, so glad for a place like A Deeper Story to publish it.

So before Deeper Story disappears from the Internet, I wanted to point to a few of the iconic posts from that beloved community:

Where else would we have read such powerful or life-changing posts as Mary DeMuth’s The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be?

Or Ashleigh Baker’s What I Won’t Tell You About My Ballet-Dancing Son?

Or Nish Weiseth’s post about Mormonism called Choosing to Listen?

Or how Amanda Williams’ found God in a little white pill?

Or Addie Zierman’s defence of the 4-letter words?

Or Micah Murray’s confession that he doesn’t want to be a good Christian anymore?

There are so many incredible stories there, so much bravery and truth-telling. I have a hard time no listing every single writer who has graced our community over the years, one after another after another.

It’s been a good ride. My deepest thanks to Nish Weiseth for creating A Deeper Story four years ago and then for taking a chance on me. Not only did it change my life as a writer, the community also opened doors to some of my dearest friendships. I’ll always be grateful.

 

 

What I'm Into :: January 2015 edition
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  • Lana

    ACk. Such a great article.

  • Courtney Jones

    I just want to say how much I hate this lie. It hurts everyone-no matter if you choose to wait or not. If you wait, sex is still not perfect, especially at the beginning. And who’s to say you won’t have some sort of sexual dysfunction? If you don’t choose to wait, then you have to endure these guilt-trip and shame-inducing sermons. If we want to teach people about healthy sexuality and what the Bible says about that, then it can’t include guilt and shame anywhere. Nor should church leaders lie about married sex and make it seem like its the complete opposite of unmarried sex. I chose to wait, and when I had sex with my husband for the first time, it was good but not nearly as “wow-I-forgot-who-I-am-as-a-person” good as had been implied to me for most of my life by church leaders. Angels didn’t float down to Earth with a gold star for each of us afterwords either. (total bummer you guys). I wish that 1. we wouldn’t use this kind of guilt-trip that Sarah is talking about to encourage young people to wait and 2. that we wouldn’t promise such a perfect sex life at the end if you do wait. This all boils down to “if I do good things, God will make my life easy and if I do bad things then God will make my life hard.” Sex can be good, but it shouldn’t be seen as something that changes who you are as a person.

    My cousin had sex for the first time recently and became pregnant from it. She called every family member to tell them so that by the time she got to me, she had the whole speech down pat. She started off explaining how much she regretted it and how she’s gotten on her knees and apologized to God for it and I stopped her. I told her that she didn’t owe me any explanation and that there wasn’t a reason for her to come to me in that way. I told her how I celebrated that new life and that she wasn’t lesser because of what she did. But it broke my heart to listen to her speak about herself that way. It was almost as if she felt that she needed to prove how sorry she was to all of us so that we wouldn’t be upset with her decision. As if any of us had a right to speak about her choices. I couldn’t believe (well, I could) the shame that we’ve all internalized because of what we’ve been taught.

    • I’m glad your cousin has you in her life. Covered in shame is no way to become a mother, or for a new life to emerge into the world. I hope and pray that she finds more support people like you, and limits the influence in her life of anyone who felt justified receiving her confession and apology.

  • I love this piece. And need to hear it today. I’m a virgin (never said that publicly, ever), but my heart hasn’t always been pure. The imagination can be powerful. I won’t say the word, but it’s been part of my life. And I have always felt it might hinder me if I get married (and although I’d like to say when, and part of me believes it is when, but another strong part of me thinks it’s a distant if). Now I know I have healing and forgiveness to go through, yes. But at least I know wife worthy of the name shouldn’t hold it against me, and God loves me as I am, even with lust having had such a powerful influence. It doesn’t have to hinder or control my future. I can leave it behind. I can say when I get married, not if, and it be true.

    Thanks Sarah. I needed this more than I realised.

  • Sandy Hay

    Sarah, thank you for rereading your posts. This post should be shared EVERYWHERE !!!!!

  • Chris

    Yes! One name: Rahab. God didn’t view her as damaged goods–He put her in the line of Christ. The Bible is full of amazing stories of God’s grace, not people’s perfection.

  • Em

    Thank you so much. So beautifully spoken & so true.

  • Lynn

    I need this message every day, but today especially – it’s (ironically) 6 years to the day since I became “damaged goods” (or so I was told, as well). My husband, a virgin when we met, has been nothing but gracious about it, yet the purity movement continues to destroy our sex life. I spent so long feeling like I was dirty, un-wantable, and truly damaged, that even now, sex continues to feel like something we shouldn’t be doing. My face flushes when the topic is brought up with people who knew me as a young woman. I prided myself on the fact that life and school forced us to be living in different states during the first year of our marriage, since then we would be considered ultra-Christians who maybe weren’t even having sex while married! Even now, two years into our marriage, I can’t help but look for opportunities to sleep on the couch while visiting at my parents’ house to prevent near-panic attacks that they might suspect we’re doing it. I hate that I think of myself as an empowered woman, saved by grace, and yet I still battle with these feelings of worthlessness. Thank you for helping to change that.

    • Em

      Dear one – I am praying for you now, from my college dorm room. You, dear sister, are anything but damaged goods. Your heart is as righteous and as pure as driven snow, and absolutely beautiful. Six years is long enough to punish yourself for one sin. Jesus, our blessed savior, died on the cross for that very sin, and you need not bear it anymore. People who knew you back then can see His beautiful redemptive story in you and through you and through your beautiful marriage. I pray that even now you feel the release of all shame and the healing of His peace.

    • Eliza

      Oh, friend. I know I am just a stranger on the internet, but if it’s alright I am going to offer a bit of unsolicited advice. Buy the book “They Were Not Ashamed”. Read it with your husband. Literally. Sit together, hold hands and read it out loud to each other. It celebrates sex and love and is specifically written for those who struggle with the exact feelings you describe. Also, the book The Act of Marriage is a wonderful resource for understanding sex and sexuality in a sex-positive, Christian framework. God bless you in your marriage.

    • Jill

      My husband and I both waited until we were married, but honestly, that was just as damaging to my idea and enjoyment of sex. It has taken us a long time to understand that it is “OK” to have sex and to love it. I think the purity movement does a good job of making sex into something ugly and awful… so it’s hard to flip that switch when it’s suddenly OK to have sex. I have spent many nights crying, and we have spent many nights talking and discussing and forgiving. Our marriage is stronger because of it, but it has taken a long time. My prayers are with you, dear Lynn.

  • Kate

    I didn’t get a chance to see this post when you published it at A Deeper Story, but I am glad to see it now. I wrote a post on my blog a few months ago after reading a post about how “I Didn’t Deserve to Wear White” because it made me sad. It made me realize that we are still stamping women as if they are angus beef and telling them they are damaged, or used chewing gum (that was our example). We talk about how we give away the gift that BELONGS to our husband (as if we don’t get to claim our own sexuality but it already owned by some man). We are not property or cattle or refuse. We are beautiful people created in the image of God.

    I was lucky that when I grew up someone sat me down and told me those lectures – intentionally or not – were abusive.

  • Jen

    Thank you for reposting this! I just recently discovered your blog and this deeply resonates with me. I’m thankful to have found an “honorable & godly” man who accepts me fully. And I’m thankful for people like you for making people like me feel a little less alone!
    Also, at the end of this post you talked about fielding emails from women saying “me too!” That struck me as well because the church I go to has a saying, or motto rather…and it’s “me too.” You’re a sinner? “Me too.” You have a past you’re ashamed of? “Me too.” Etc. They are 2 beautiful words to hold on to!

  • Jory Peterson

    This is awesome! I am the “Everything But” girl. I did wait, but by the skin of my teeth. We should fight for purity of course, but we should also fight against the shame and judgment of “messing up!” Who cares! Move on. It happens. Shame and guilt only keep us down. They don’t help us to work with God, our redeemer. Love your grace-centered approach. I relate to everything you write! Would love if you would follow my blog too (jorymicah.com). My catch phrase is “breaking the glass steeple!” -Jory Micah 🙂

  • Hazel Moon

    I am so thankful that Jesus sees in His eyes as a chaste virgin before him – – to Him none of are damaged goods.

  • Thank you for this. In a society so particular about the topic of [physical] virginity (and why not?), it’s interesting to know the “lust of the heart” part is still very much overlooked and even considered more bearable. Purity is not just in body but in mind too. Maybe if we taught this, less girls will fall into the trap of thinking they’re damaged goods and lesser still will feel smug in hiding behind their “physical” purity.
    http://williamsoyindamola.blogspot.com

  • Angela

    Wonderful. Beautiful. Truthful. Merciful. Thank you Sarah Bessey. God’s Speed!

  • This story, over on ADS, was my first introduction to you, Sarah. I felt much the same whenever purity came up (which it did, and still does, all the time in Christian circles – teens and the unmarried get the worst of it, I think, but you might (or maybe not) be surprised how often past sexual history comes up in groups of young married women, just like this). In my case, my virginity was stolen from me at six years old, followed by years of sexual abuse, followed by repeated abuse and assault over a six month period in a dating relationship in high school. No distinction is ever made in purity culture for those who had no choice in their sexual experience; if there is, it’s a token, “Of course, if your virginity was taken from you, we’re not talking about you – we’re only talking about those who give it away voluntarily,” which is total BS considering that a) you’re not stupid enough to think that if voluntary sex makes you a cup full of spit that somehow sexual assault leaves you sparkly clean, and b) it further shames those who engage in sex willingly, while driving a wedge between them and survivors. Purity Culture is not the same thing as purity. In fact, I would say it misses the point of purity and modesty completely.

  • Andrew

    Hey Sarah,

    My friend shared this with me. I am in student ministries and right in the middle or writing our Love, Sex, and Dating middle school retreat. I am also a recent reader of Jesus Feminist and love seeing the truth of God’s word regarding all the divisions his Son brings into unity through the cross. I am a recovering “-ist” and I am pretty desperate to help my students avoid the path of judgment and not miss the freedom of God’s love and grace.

    In light of all of that, I have some questions that I don’t expect you to answer, but would love it if you did. Now, let me quickly say that I’m not much for message boards and comments. I have seen so many of these dissolve into back slapping high five fests or hate-filled arguments between polarized positions. I don’t want my questions to be read with an ounce of passive-aggressive disagreement, but to be read as questions from a pilgrim to a host. A “tell-me-about-your-world” kind of tone hopes to cover these words of mine and I appreciate your grace if it seems to miss that mark.

    I, too, believe that God’s love can cover all our sins. I, too, believe in the power of Jesus’ words to the pharisees ready to stone the adulterous. So, how do I communicate to my students the importance of purity while never sacrificing the power of Christ’s sacrifice? How do I rationalize the apostles’ call for avoiding sexual immorality to the emerging church with the modern shame applying message regarding the same topic? Can you help me figure out to help students understand that sexual choices have strong consequences without resorting to over simplified fear based statistic slapping? That is my hope for this weekend retreat. I want them to leave confident in the power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. I want them to choose purity because of their love of God and not because of fear. I want them to know that their church is a safe place to share our shortcomings without unintentionally granting a license for harmful decisions.

    I have found some decent curriculums out there. I know that effective instruction of our students must be done in the context of relationships. But, I would love to hear from you, or anyone, on how to do all of this better.

    For King and Kingdom,
    Andrew

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  • Michelle Butler

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Thank you for saying all of this! Christian purity culture, while well-intentioned, has needed an overhaul for such a long time. This needs to be heard–no one is damaged goods!

  • pastordt

    Amen, amen. So thankful for that place and for you and so many others there.

  • Maggie

    Just wanted to say I did not mean to up vote this link. I was only trying to click the link and accidentally clicked the wrong thing. Absolutely no up votes from me!!!!

    • Dr. Dee Tee

      so? her work is still false teaching

      • Sarah Allen

        “It is all about giving grace to her and others like her even though they do not want to humble themselves and make themselves worthy of such grace.”

        pretty much everything about your response in your unedited blog space enraged me, but this last line sent me over the edge. Noone on earth can make themselves worthy of grace. Grace is given. That’s why it is grace. Sarah is not lifting herself up as authority to govern over all. She is opening up conversation about a great deal of pain and shame she herself has carried for many years based on a message that is far from the gospel. The gospel has been shown more clearly through her story of healing and freedom than continuing to vomit rules and regulations about pre-marital sex. When we mess up as Christians, we know we have. There’s no need to have our nose rubbed in our sin over and over again. She is allowing space for us to move on and accept forgiveness and grace. Grace, again, is free and there for the taking. She has assisted in helping us find the courage to stand up and accept it. I disagree with you. Her teaching is far from false if we are walking towards the road to freedom.

        • Dr. Dee Tee

          First, thank you for reading it.

          Second, Actually it isn’t far from the gospel. people who commit pre-marital sex sin and need to seek forgiveness through repentance before the shame will go away.

          Third, if you had read what i wrote correctly you would have seen where I did not agree with the supposed message that preacher was to have given. Then if you have sought repentance and received forgiveness then whatever anybody says should not bother you any more because God has forgiven you and he doe snot remember your sin anymore, Forget what people remember, they are not God

          Fourth, no it hasn’t as I pointed out she did not speak on one biblical thing in her post. She was speaking from her own point of view and nothing of God was in it. She said nothing of the gospel but misrepresented your sins.

          Fifth, there is nothing wrong with my post and bessey is 100% wrong.

          • Sarah Allen

            Oh well, there you have it everyone.

            If you think her teaching is false, don’t read it. Leave more room here for individuals who resonate with her voice or can at least participate in beneficial, healthy dialogue even if they don’t agree with her position on an issue.

            Shame on me for entering into a discussion which proves to be a poor use of my time.

          • Dr. Dee Tee

            What a poor attitude you have and it is sad to see that you do not want to be warned when you are being led astray by false teaching.

            You call it a waste of time yet I gave you good thoughts to think about. The only reason you have shame and guilt is because your standard is not God centered but man centered plus you do not want the truth.

  • Taylee Winder

    Amen, sister. You spoke the words in my heart. God bless the broken made beautiful and whole.

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  • Becca Zarza

    I really appreciate your perspective as I too was not a virgin when I married (and dealt with many years of shame, not because of the purity movement itself but because of the people I hurt with that relationship). But somehow, all the sermons I heard about it included the grace of God if you had made that mistake. I used to teach at a private Christian high school -My question is, what should our message be? Damaged goods is by far too harsh, but not teaching and warning of the consequenses of pre-marital sex is irresponsible too. The spitting in the jar is certainly gross -but shock value like that tends to get the point across to teenagers. WIth STDs so prevalent and the effects of which can be so damaging particularly to women, what would you say to a young girl to warn her of the dangers both physical and emotional but also to remember God’s forgiveness and restoration if she does end up in the 80%?

  • Mag Ster

    thanks for this post, a great read sarah! I also have a Christian blog of my own can you please check it out: http://spiritual-disciplines.com thanks!

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