Like a Virgin (Sort Of)

updated 09/09/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/09/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Their story begins like many love stories—Dawn Bangart and Michael Caldwell met in 1998, fell head over heels, had sex, got a house together last year and set a wedding date for this Sept. 21. But now, every night until they wed, Caldwell hugs his fiancée, gives her a tender kiss and...gets in his car and drives across town to sleep at a friend's house.

And this newfound celibacy is not because Caldwell left the toilet seat up one too many times. What's going on is a practice called revirginization, in which couples who have already engaged in hanky-panky abstain from sex for a period of weeks or even months before their marriage. Dawn, 34, and Michael, 35, have been at it—or, rather, not at it—for six months now, living apart to lessen the temptation. "This gives us time to focus on other things that are important in our relationship," says Dawn, who suggested they just say no for spiritual reasons. "We have a different type of intimacy now." Adds Michael: "There are times when it's really, really tough. But you can draw a line in the sand and start with a clean slate."

Whoa—hasn't that horse already left the barn? A whole stampede of horses for that matter? Not the point, says Marilyn Ammon, 47, cofounder of a Waco, Texas, group that promotes abstinence. People who opt for periods of secondary virginity—something more and more couples are doing, anecdotal evidence suggests—find they "restore self-worth and regain feelings of control, and that's empowering," says Ammon. "Some even use it as a litmus test, to see if their relationship is about more than just sex."

For many, holding out has nothing to do with spiritual cleansing. A period of abstinence, say its adherents, can increase the excitement of the wedding night. For others, "there is guilt involved when you're living together and your parents are throwing you this big wedding," says Keri Mozeliak, 29, a Denver accountant who abstained for six weeks prior to her June 22 marriage to longtime boyfriend Bryan Boettiger, 29, and who knows other couples who have revirginized. Bryan, the owner of a picture-frame shop, says, "This isn't a male decision. It's purely a female phenomenon."

If so, some guys realize they had better just get into the spirit of things. "I was half-hearted about the idea, but now I kind of like it," says Brian Greene, 25, a senior computer science major at Western Illinois University. Brian and Stacie Vrban, 26, a speech pathologist, agreed to abstain from sex for six weeks—which he negotiated down from the three months she proposed—before their wedding this Sept. 28. "It's kind of like being 17 again," he says, "and feeling that physical tension build."

Dawn and Michael, a couple since meeting at a convention of chamber of commerce ambassadors, have lustily embraced chastity because, they say, it's God's will. "The scriptures are pretty straightforward: He wants us to wait," says Michael, who works in technical support for an irrigation company and intends to become an Episcopalian priest. The key is avoiding temptation, which means skipping joint showers (a major no-no) and snuggling during naps (come on, you know where that leads). While Dawn and Greta, the couple's German shepherd, stay in the three-bedroom home in Abilene, Texas, that she and Michael rent together, he leaves every night to bunk with his pal Scotty Embry. "Sometimes he comes in and goes, 'Arrrrggggh, I'm going to go crazy,' " says Embry, 36. "But they're both diverting their energy toward other constructive pursuits."

Like planning a honeymoon. Should they head to Bora Bora? Take a cruise to Alaska? Both sound nice but maybe not necessary. "I'd hate for us to spend all that money on Tahiti," says Dawn, "and then never leave the hut."

Alex Tresniowski
Shermakaye Bass in Abilene, Vickie Bane in Denver and John Slania in Chicago

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