Can I have a Catholic marriage if I’m not a virgin?

Dear Anthony,

I’m confused, and slightly worried.  I recently read an article by a respected Catholic author talking about being married to the person you lose your virginity to, that it is a fact the Bible teaches, and that those who marry someone else are not really married in the eyes of God.  It was very confusing to me, but I’m mostly worried because I am (unfortunately) no longer a virgin, but I have changed and become convinced of chastity before marriage.  Is it too late for me?

First of all, let’s make it clear that you have nothing to worry about.  Though you are no longer a virgin, as a Catholic, you are completely qualified to have a valid, sacramental marriage one day when you find the person you choose.  The loss of virginity before marriage absolutely does not disqualify you from Catholic marriage, nor are you “too late” in God’s eyes by your conversion to a chaste life after losing your virginity.  In fact, your conversion is God’s inspiration and gift to you which you accepted, and takes great delight in those who return to Him.

I have heard this argument before and understand the basis of the argument.  I understand how it can be confusing to people.  It’s not something you hear in your upbringing, or in your religion or C.C.D. classes. At least, not explicitly.

This argument is rooted in the Biblical concept of marital union; namely, genital intercourse.  The Bible phrases this act as a “knowing” of another.  To “know” the other means that you have had genital intercourse.  In the Old Testament, you see many instances of a man taking a woman into a tent where he “knows” her.  That act is all that is necessary to be officially married.

The person in the article you read is probably stressing the point that there is something very real and objective about the act of genital intercourse and becoming married.  Some teach that there is an exchange of persons in that act, and that “becoming one flesh” (another Biblical teaching) happens when you have genital intercourse.  Therefore, the person you lose your virginity to is the person you are married to, regardless of how you feel or if it’s legal by civil standards, etc.  It’s a compelling argument because it does makes sense based on certain Biblical realities.

It’s first important to be said that loss of virginity is traditionally a very big deal, both positively and negatively.  Positively, because two people getting married was celebrated.  It was culturally as well as religiously expected that the person you marry is the first person with whom you engage in genital intercourse.  Negatively, because if you were not a virgin at the time of marriage, it was cause for divorce.  Parents would actually need to prove the virginity of their daughter to prevent divorce if a man claimed after marriage that he did not know if she was a virgin or not.  And if it were known in the community that you were not a virgin, you ruined your chances for marriage.

And, of course, at the time of the central event of history, the clarity of the Gospel writers that Mary was a virgin was of strict priority for two reasons; one, the prophecy of the miraculous conception and virgin birth, and the intention of the just man, Joseph, who, by law, had to divorce Mary when she was found with child.  He could not stay married to a woman who was not a virgin (which, as we know, the angel made sure he did not further pursue).

Contrast this with today, when the chances of finding a virgin for marriage are remote.  For better or for worse, remaining a virgin before marriage is not a priority of the culture today.  But it is reality.  And we all must live our lives in reality, not in what we want, hope, or wish.  Therefore, it would be impractical, to say the least, to insist on marrying a virgin.

But how do we reconcile this with the clear Bible teaching about virginity as a requirement for a valid marriage?

The answer is actually quite simple.  As Catholics, we do not live our lives solely on what we read in the Bible, nor on our personal interpretation of what we read in the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the authority of Truth, and He established an authoritative body, which is His own mystical body and presence, on earth for all time and ages, with a self-appointed head of that body; the person of Peter, the first pope.  The Pope and all bishops in union with him are the official representatives of Jesus Christ and all revealed Truth of the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing in official Catholic Church teaching that says you must be a virgin before you are married.  When a couple approaches the Church for Catholic marriage, there is no question asking if you are still a virgin.  The Catholic Church allows marriages between a man and a woman with whom one or both are no longer virgins, and those who have been previously married civilly with a decree of nullity.  Non-virgins are welcome to the altar of the Lord in Holy Matrimony.

I certainly understand why someone would want to marry a virgin, or someone who has never been married.  Perhaps it is a desire to avoid possible diseases.  Perhaps it is to avoid dealing with another person’s ex-spouse or their children, or they only want their own children.  Perhaps it’s just that they feel it’s too risky, or they want someone who has also exercised self-control in refraining from pre-marital sex. It’s everyone prerogative to choose married to whomever they please, and hold out for someone who personifies the priorities they seek in their marriage partner.  Who wouldn’t prefer to be with someone on their wedding night who has never been with another person?  It’s a very nice hope, indeed, to find that. Yet, it’s not very practical in today’s world.  And it severely diminishes one’s opportunities.

Don’t be worried.  You are not a virgin anymore, like most of today’s society, including many Catholics.  But you are still very much a Catholic, and absolutely a candidate for sacramental marriage when you finally find the love of your life.  Keep up the good fight for remaining chaste before marriage.

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One response to “Can I have a Catholic marriage if I’m not a virgin?

  1. I think this is one of the major reasons that a lot of people these days are single. Virginity for both partners is the preferred circumstance, but rarely possible. Personally, I can’t imagine going somewhere where someone else has been.