The Oxford Dictionary defines virginity as “the state of never having had sexual intercourse”. Based on this definition, you’re technically still a virgin if you’ve only gone as far as heavy petting, since there’s been no penetration by the penis.
However, the more important question is this: is being a virgin the most important thing? Or is there more?
There is a tendency in Christian culture to be obsessed with the idea of virginity, which has led to the ‘purity ring’ movement in the US. This involved wearing purity (or ‘promise’) rings and signing pledges to abstain from sex before marriage. High- profile celebrities who hopped on (and off) this bandwagon include Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and the Jonas Brothers. However, all of them broke their pledges. Focusing on being a ‘technical’ virgin obviously did not enable them to keep their promise.
1 Thessalonians 4:3–4 says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable…” In the Bible, sexual immorality refers to sexual activity outside of marriage. For us today, this would include heavy petting as it involves stimulation of the genitals. It is clear that the verses do not call us to be ‘technical’ virgins — rather, we are called to be holy and honorable by exercising self-control and staying away from sexual immorality. We are called to focus on honouring God with our body instead of sinning against it (1 Cor 6:18–20)!
We miss this point when we ask whether certain behaviours like petting, French kissing or even seeing each other naked is ‘wrong’. This is because we’re focusing on our actions rather than our motivations and what is in our heart.
My encouragement to you is that instead of fixating on the dividing line between virgin and non-virgin and seeing how far you can go before you’ve ‘lost’ your virginity, consider what you need to do to flee from sexual immorality and honour God with your body (1 Cor 6:18).
This may include refraining from watching shows that attempt to titillate through nudity or sex scenes, so as not to fuel fantasies or desires. It would also be wise to avoid situations where you or your partner may be tempted to explore each other’s bodies in a sexual manner. If you’re not married, your bodies do not belong to each other (Mark 10:8)!
If all this leads you to feeling guilt and shame over your actions, do take heart that Christ the Bridegroom has already given Himself to sanctify and wash you as part of His Bride, the Church, who shall be presented as holy and blameless (Eph 5:25–27). And if you’re struggling with your body and sexuality, please speak to a mature Christian sister about it! Find out God’s purposes for the body and for marriage, and seek a Spirit-filled will to honour God in this area. There is often no instant fix, however, so do not walk this journey alone, dear sister!