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Virginity and Virgin Birth

Being a Catholic doctor pits two very different devotions against each other, faith and science. One of the beliefs held most firmly in Christianity is the virgin birth of Christ. Being an obstetrician does give me pause each and every Christmas when I try to make sense of this article of faith from a religious standpoint.

What does virgin birth mean? It undoubtedly means virgin conception. Most people think that the Immaculate Conception was the virgin conception, but it actually means that the mother of Christ was born without Original Sin, that ticket out of Paradise that bought us the gnashing of teeth and the sweat of our brows. But it's easier to accept the Immaculate Conception than the virgin conception, because being conceived without Original Sin is more of an ethereal concept, taken out of the mundane day-to-day activities of sex and reproduction. Virgin conception, on the other hand, defies what we know happens to us every day.

From time to time a nervous mother will bring in her adolescent daughter to have her examined for the purposes of determining whether she is still a virgin. First of all, these mothers don't understand the prime concept of doctor-patient confidentiality. I can't even see a patient without the clearly stated understanding that I cannot divulge any findings without the minor's permission. But the bigger misunderstanding here is that virginity is not so much the state of an intact membrane serving to guard all that is sacred and holy. The difference between the anatomies of men and women has added to the mystique. The hymen is just a physical reminder of a much more important metaphysical state. In fact, it has historically been important that the wedding night be accompanied by blood on the bed to indicate the traumatic tearing of the hymen with first penetration.

Virginity is not so much a physical state, but a sociopsychological and philosophical state. The whole concept of virginity is one in which a woman is "saving herself" for the man of her life. But because it has throughout history been a "man's world," there has always existed a double standard regarding the value of virginity.

A woman who is not a virgin has a stigma a man need not worry about. From the Scarlet Letter to the girl with the bad "rep," a man's stigma, in comparison, is wispy at worst. There is an irony in comparing the legitimateness of sexual mores between men and women. This irony is that even though it's unfair that a woman's loss of virginity is deemed so tragic while a man's is not, that this underscores how much more revered women are than men when assessing the "book value" on the bodies God gave them.

The differences have softened, though, with the prevalence of R-rated movies, R-rated TV, portrayals of promiscuity in SITCOMS as what is normal, and all media pushing the envelop to outpace the competitors' latest outrage.

But if you look really hard past today's hedonistic, politically correct, rockadelic world, the concept of true virginity remains a beautiful thing--as long as it applies to men as well as to women. Mutual sexual consent between a man and a woman is a special gift of love and devotion. And submission.

We put our backs into our work. Football players throw their backs into the play. Our backs ward off the world. We even turn around to face away from oncoming danger. It is a feature of our anatomy that our backs are more padded and more protected from our fronts. We therefore feel more vulnerable presenting our soft bellies and faces to any affront than we do our backs which keep us anonymous. There are even people who feel this vulnerability when they sleep, having nightmares when sleeping on their backs, their "soft" side up to the world.

As human beings, we have the anatomy that allows us to be intimate front to front, that is, soft side to soft side. We can face each other in our physical love and we offer each other our most vulnerable sides. We submit physically to each other and the submission is total, and there is no better way translate a loving of the soul into a physical process.

So if sex is such a gift to each other, because the submission to each other is such a gift, then virginity must be even moreso. Saving this total submission for the right person brings back into focus the special beauty of waiting for "Mr. Right" or "Miss Right."

So where did God and Mother Mary and Christ fit into all of this?

It was only fitting that the mother of Christ totally submit, on behalf of all of us, to her special role. The beauty of using a virgin to give us a Redeemer is missed unless one thinks about the concept of virginity as it relates to the rest of us.

Virginity is indeed valuable. And it is not sacred because of this particular commandment or that particular rule of morality. It is sacred because totally submitting yourself to another is the greatest gift one can give. God did it for us. He showed us His soft side, so to speak, and continues to do it with the teachings of Christ and the Beatitudes.

It's not corny to do it for ourselves, too.

As far as how he pulled off the virgin conception, I guess I really don't care so much how as why. The HOW I can accept through faith; the WHY is typical of the beauty He offers us in this gift we call life.

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