On debt-free virgins and tattoos
“Do you know how much more attractive debt-free virgins (without tattoos) are to young men?”
So begins a recent and now widely quoted blog post by Christian author Lori Alexander. I’m sure she wrote these words with love, seeking to give women good advice. I'm sure, in particular, that she desires for Christian women to be more committed to Christ and less swayed by other influences.
But when we look closely at the scriptures, I believe that Alexander's claim turn out not to be the godly instruction she intends.
Here are three reasons why:
1. Women should not be deprived of education
When I read the words “debt-free” my thoughts flew fast to college debt: surely this was not an injunction to young women to steer clear of educational goods! But, yes, this is the tack that Alexander takes. Doubtless anyone – male or female – would prefer that their intended spouse had positive financial assets. But for an educated man, the value of education in a potential wife must surely outweigh the inconvenience of college debt.
If we flip roles, a better-documented comparison will strip the semblance of godliness from this directive. Scientific studies have confirmed the stereotype that, on average, women prefer wealthy men. But telling a young, Christian man that he’d better devote himself to maximizing his income because women prefer rich men would never pass as godly instruction. Our worldliness alarm bells would assault our ears!
And what data do we have on Jesus’s view of female education? Well, we have the story of Mary and Martha for a start. In Luke 10:38-42, we see Jesus’s interacting with two sisters. Martha is busy serving. Mary is sitting at Jesus’s feet – in the disciple position – listening to his teaching. Martha calls on Jesus to rebuke Mary and send her back to the women’s work of serving. But Jesus affirms Mary’s pursuit of learning, despite its challenge to the cultural norms of the day (Luke 10:42)
2. God cares about our faithfulness, not our certificate of virginity
God cares deeply about our sexual ethics and behavior. But the reference to virginity in Alexander’s claim is unhelpful for three reasons.
First, at the risk of being pedantic, if it is true that men find virgins “much more attractive” that’s terrible news for marriage! It implies that a woman’s attractiveness to her husband should fall off a cliff after their honeymoon.
Second, the reference implies that the certification of virginity should be valued in itself. But many of the most godly women I know have a sexual past they regret. Some were raped, and then persuaded by boyfriends that this meant they should sleep with them as well – it’s not like they were virgins, after all. Others had multiple sexual partners before coming to Christ and were washed utterly clean of all past sins (sexual and otherwise) when they repented and believed. Still others grew up in the Lord and made sinful sexual choices. They too have now repented, and their sins has been removed from them as far as the east is from the west.
Third – and most importantly – we only have to glance at Jesus’s ministry to discover that he in no way favored virgins. In Luke 7:36-50, we see “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” weeping on Jesus’s feet, kissing them, and anointing them with oil. Simon the Pharisee, in whose house this occurred, was horrified. Surely, if Jesus was a prophet, he’d know what kind of woman was touching him! But Jesus uses the evidence of this woman’s love for him to shame the man who is judging her. Or think of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26). She herself knows that Jesus shouldn’t be talking to her: she’s a Samaritan woman with a colorful sexual past. And yet Jesus seeks her out, and she becomes an evangelist to her town. Likewise, when Jesus explains the Parable of the Prodigal Son, he warns his religiously-minded audience, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31). The claim that men in general are “much more attracted” to virgins is tenuous. Any suggestion that Jesus values virgins over sexual sinners who repent and throw themselves on him is indefensible.
3. Women should not be ruled by male preference
The tacit assumption behind Alexander’s question is that women should conform themselves to male preferences. This is the air we women breath. It is whispered to us in stories, blared at us in advertising, modeled for us in films, and prescribed to us in fashion. When we start to hear that siren call from Christian mentors too, we must push back.
Alexander claims that tattoos reduce a woman’s attractiveness to a man. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true. Should this be rolled into supposedly godly instruction? Again, a clearer example will expose the noxious implication. It is a well-documented fact that most men are attracted to women with larger breasts. Knowing this, should a woman save the money she might have spent on tattoos and invest it in implants? I'm sure Alexander would not affirm this choice, even if it did not involve the young woman in debt. It is also well-documented that men (at least in twenty-first century, western culture) prefer women who are thin – even unhealthily so. Should Christian leaders be calling women to BMI reduction? Or should we not all be helping women to escape that prison and pointing them to the one man who loves them utterly irrespective of their appearance?
Furthermore, when we look closely at the question of tattoos, we must recognize the range of shapes they take and messages they carry. Last year, I met a young, single woman whose wrist was marked with the Greek word, “doulos.” Knowing a smattering of New Testament Greek, I caught the significance. Doulos means “slave” and its primary usage in the gospels and epistles is as a title for Jesus and his followers. “Whoever wishes to be first among you,” declares Jesus, “must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27-28). The apostles took this to heart and made it their title: e.g. “Paul a slave of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1). This woman’s tattoo marks her as a slave of Jesus Christ. Whether it adds or subtracts from her attractiveness to men I don’t know. I’m guessing a similarly educated, similarly passionate Christian man would be quite impressed! But her tattoo states that, in a fundamental sense, she is already taken: she belongs entirely to the one man whose opinion of her really counts.
Do men find “debt-free virgins (without tattoos)” much more attractive? I don’t know. And, frankly, I don’t care. It’s our pursuit of Jesus that should drive our actions, not the preferences of other men. And for all the women out there who feel like they have failed to conform to male ideals and are torn down by claims like that with which this article began, hear God’s revelation of His own body art:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
God’s flesh bears your name. You are his bride and, in the deepest sense, debt-free. At the end of the day, that’s the only certification that matters.