Traditional understanding of Virginity

mature theme; adults only please

I am trying to understand the traditional Catholic teachings on this topic and I’d be grateful for any help with this. (since younger people might see this, I’m going to try and phrase things very carefully, using moral theology terms only…)

I’ll separate my question into several parts so it’s more easy to understand:

  1. St Thomas Aquinas defines the term in the Summa Theologica

It seems that virginity is lost through any complete and willful experience of venereal pleasure (according to St Thomas). But isn’t it lost through any willful sexual act even if this venereal pleasure is not experienced by both parties?

  1. Fr John Hardon’s dictionary defines Virginity as:

VIRGINITY. The state of bodily integrity in either sex. This integrity may be physical or moral, and either factual or intentional. Physical virginity is sometimes defined as the absence of any sinfully experienced lustful sensation. But, strictly speaking, a person is physically a virgin unless he or she has had sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. Moral virginity means the absence of any willful consent to venereal pleasure; again, strictly speaking, with a person of the opposite sex. Virginity is factual when, de facto, a person has not in the past sought or indulged in sexual pleasure; it is intentional when a person intends never to experience such pleasure, according to the previous distinctions made. (Etym. Latin virgo , maiden, virgin.)

This definition seems to restrict it more to intercourse with the opposite sex, but isn’t this different from the previous definition, which could relate to any sexual act, including solitary impure acts?

Also, typically someone would not be considered a virgin in certain cases though they did not have the marital act properly speaking ?

  1. VIRGINITY, VIRTUE OF. A virtue distinct from the virtue of chastity because of its special excellence. Chastity restrains the satisfaction of the sexual appetite, but virginity totally excludes it. (Fr John Hardon)

"Virtue can be recovered by penance as regards that which is formal in virtue, but not as to that which is material therein. For if a magnificent man has squandered all his wealth he does not recover his riches by repenting of his sin. On like manner a person who has lost virginity by sin, recovers by repenting, not the matter of virginity but the purpose of virginity.

Reply to Objection 4. Virginity as a virtue denotes the purpose, confirmed by vow, of observing perpetual integrity. For Augustine says (De Virgin. viii) that “by virginity, integrity of the flesh is vowed, consecrated and observed in honor of the Creator of both soul and flesh.” Hence virginity, as a virtue, is never lost without sin." (Summa)

Putting all this together, does this mean that the VIRTUE of virginity can be recovered? (if virtue is the purpose vowed to God, and the purpose can be recovered). For instance, if someone has sinned against chastity but later vows their chastity to God in their vocation.

I’m looking for the traditional Catholic understanding, not personal opinions on this… thank you!

Just to clarify, this isn’t really about the requirements to be a Consecrated Virgin, which include being a virgin obviously, but might also be violated by other known impure sins from what i understand? this question is more about the definition of what virginity is at all.
Also I meant to put this in the moral theology forum and by accident posted it here… I’m not sure how it could be moved? (but if it’s answered here, that’s totally ok!)

Does it really matter?


That’s what St. Thomas says in the reply to objection 3, which you quoted. One can recover the virtue of virginity by repentance, and perpetual celibacy and continence.

Yes, because of merit. Unless merit doesn’t matter?


The exact definition of virginity has nothing to do with merit.

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This is something I’d like to understand… I hope this wouldn’t turn into a debate, I’m honestly just looking for an answer to my question :slight_smile:

I am not a believer. But my understanding of the Church’s view is that ‘virginity’ in the sense of ‘never having had…’ cannot be restored but that ‘chastity’ according to your state in life can. There does not seem to me to be much emphasis on ‘virginity’ other than as an ideal and consecrated state and a far greater emphasis on ‘chastity’. I have not read up on it carefully by I have noticed fundamentalist protestants especially in the US promoting ‘virginity’ as a state that can be ‘restored’. I think they mean what was usually called ‘chastity’. My understanding is also that the Church sees being in a state of grace as far more important than being in a state of virginity and that virginity, to the extent it is desirable, is only a step towards a state of grace, or possibly an expression of it. There are a few relatively recent encyclicals that go into some of this.

As indicated above I am not a believer and just trying to pass on my understanding. If someone would like to start a thread asking me for my personal opinion on all this - more than happy to share!

Thank you, that helps!

If anyone has any thoughts about the first two questions in my first post, that would be great :slight_smile: thank you

Yes, physical virginity cannot be restored, but the purpose of it/the virtue can be (if the person intends to live celibately and vows chastity to God). This is because the virtue of virginity is in offering it to God, not in simply having it.

From what I understand, perfect chastity (celibacy) helps a person to love God in a particular way… like more fully than otherwise. And someone’s vocation is related to their salvation. But being in a state of grace is of course the foundational thing for salvation… I’m talking about more vocations here.

I think my question was just that I’m confused about what the Church says virginity is in the first place - because there seem to be different definitions. (I quoted two of them as an example). I’m trying to study the Church teaching on some topics and this would be helpful to know from a theological/moral perspective.

Thanks for the reply!

Maybe the topic as covered in the Catholic Encyclopedia will be helpful to your questions…

Thanks for the link… I’m kind of confused though, because though this seems to answer the first question (what virginity is), it also says something different from St Thomas.
The article disagrees with him that there is a virtue of virginity, rather it says that a vow of chastity ennobles what is formal in virginity, which is the purpose.

Also, I got confused about my last question again… I read that the purpose of virginity can be recovered. St Thomas and the encyclopedia seem to say different things about the existence of the virtue of virginity (and so it’s unclear if it exists, and if it can be recovered). But I’m confused about the implication of this. In the encyclopedia article, it says that the “aureola” of virginity is for those who have bodily integrity as well as the purpose of virginity. So it would seem like once bodily integrity has been lost, this is lost too.

But I read that Our Lord told St Margaret of Cortona (who was definitely not a virgin, as she had a child with a man out of wedlock) - that she would be placed among the virgins in Heaven. He told her that she had been purified so much that she became as pure as a virgin (she was afraid to believe this though). So I’m just trying to understand this in context of the theology… I know it’s a private revelation but it’s to a Saint. I know that virginity cannot be recovered. But do we understand this private revelation?

There is a distinction between the state of virginity, with its merits, and the virtue of virginity. St. Thomas enumerates three special kinds of merit in heaven for virgins, doctors (teachers and preachers), and martyrs. The “aureole” or crown of virginity, is a special merit for those who have never lost the virtue of virginity through “sexual pleasure, voluntarily and completely experienced.”

The virtue can be recovered, but not the special merit belonging to those who never lost that virtue unless there was something involuntary or incomplete about the act of sexual pleasure. Note that physical virginity, which only women have, is not essential to the virtue, but accidental. It is moral virginity that is essential.

We can understand the private revelation to St. Margaret as a special favour by Our Lord to her; which of course is always a possibility for any saint. Every soul’s own relationship with Christ is unique.

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Thanks for the reply! That clarifies a lot.
I just had one more question before this thread is closed, lol, - I read in an encyclical by Pope Pius XII on Virginity, that those who have the virtue of virginity (he is talking about a perpetual vow of chastity, in context) are called spouses of Christ. Does it seem like this is something that could be attainable even by those who have lost their virginity, but later gave themselves to God forever through a perpetual vow? Or is this like the aureola, which cannot be restored unless by a special favour, I suppose, as with St Margaret of Cortona/St Mary Magdalene?

My personal (layman’s, with no theological degrees) opinion is that yes, that would belong to the formal aspect of virginity, which is the virtue, perfected by the vow.

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That’s my understanding too, I guess I can ask a priest about this as well :slight_smile: thanks so much for the helpful replies! God bless you

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You definitely can’t regain physical virginity. Maybe spiritual virginity? I know for people like consecrated virgins you can only become one if you are a Virgin- ie haven’t had intercourse and repentance doesn’t change that

Exactly. If a difinitive line were required for our salvation, He would have provided that information to His Church.

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