Catholic Church Administers "Consecrated Virgin" Rites to Laywomen Who Never Got Around to Sex

As far as religions of the world go, modern Catholicism strikes a tricky balance between "relatively chill" and "completely horrifying" — Like, sex outside of marriage is verboten, which sucks, but they also don't teach creationism in school, so, bonus? In 1970, the Catholic Church also reinstated the practice of administering the "Rite of Consecration of a Virgin Living in the World" to women who have never had sex. It's kind of a low-commitment celibacy ceremony, which differs from becoming a nun. Nuns take specific religious vows and are supported by the religious order they join; consecrated virgins are autonomous laywomen who must provide for themselves, but are considered especially sacred by the Church.

The practice of administering this rite fell out of fashion in the Middle Ages, when women who chose celibacy were encouraged to become nuns. But with its reinstatement 45 years ago, an estimated 230 women in the United States have been consecrated, according to the US Association of Consecrated Virgins, which is a real thing. And a very sweet retired music teacher in Pittsburgh was just profiled for receiving the rite. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

She said when she tells people about her vocation as a consecrated virgin, "I’ve had nothing but positive reactions."

Ms. Stegman said she encourages women who have received the rite "not to be too afraid to say, 'I’m a consecrated virgin,' even in our secular world."

Here's where the scales of "chill" vs "horrifying" come back into play. Of course, letting your virgin flag fly is totally empowering if that's a life choice you've made, whether for religion or for any other reason. But also, exclusively administering these rites to women perpetuates the idea that female chastity is a special snowflake that must be preserved and displayed in a climate-controlled glass box, while male chastity is essentially disregarded. Sorry dude-virgins, it's the priesthood or nothing for you and your dirty penises. Imposing the idea that female chastity is to be honored and protected doesn't only harm women — it fuels toxic masculinity, too. It positions female virginity as a conquest to be taken, and male virginity as a vaguely embarrassing rite of passage to rush through losing before they're too old to still be virgins. This is just another way in which the Church reinforces the societal norm of disrespecting and judging the personal sex choices people make under the guise of moral authority.