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A white wedding dress isn't just for virgins anymore.

Vanessa has a problem; actually, she has several, but they're all related to one thing: Vanessa is getting married in a few months, and naturally, she wants everything to be perfect. The problem is that her sister, Sandra, has decided to get married, too, and this is the source of Vanessa's grief.

Vanessa is an anachronism, a throwback to a bygone era that featured bizarre concepts like morality and chastity. This poor child actually believed what they told her at church--that men and women should save themselves for marriage and that sexuality was a gift from God to be shared between a husband and a wife.

"We were all brought up that way, all my friends and my sisters," explains Vanessa. "We all had quinceñeras where we promised God that we'd stay virgins until we got married. I decided to stick to my promise. But if they didn't, it's their life; it's their body; it's their decision. If they want to have sex with all kinds of guys before they get married, that's between them and God."

And it's probably also between them and the makers of Valtrex.

"What I don't like," Vanessa continues, "is the hypocrisy."

See, Vanessa wants to get married in white. She thinks, according to what she was taught growing up, she's earned it. But Sandra, who has been living with her boyfriend, off and on, for the past three years and has a 1-year-old kid with him (maybe; at press time, the paternity is still somewhat unsettled between her current boyfriend and a previous one--plus a one-night stand thrown in for bad measure), also wants to wear white at her wedding. In fact, Sandra wants the two of them to buy and wear identical white wedding gowns. Sandra, too, thinks she has earned it, because she and her current boyfriend have "been together almost three years and we have a son and that really means a lot."

Not having watched The Maury Povich Show for a while, I'm not sure if the proper riposte is, "You selfish, ignorant scuz!" or "You raggedy ho'!"

(This column only pertains to what goes on in the Catholic Church. I have little knowledge of, nor would I presume to discuss, such matters as they pertain to other religions or to people who have no religion.)

Vanessa understands that virginity is out of fashion, even among many Catholics, and has been for quite a while. However, surveys show that fully a third of all of today's teenage girls remain virgins through high school and into college, and the majority of that group remains so until marriage. (While they are fewer in number than the girls, a significant percentage of guys also put off having sex until marriage for religious reasons.) Furthermore, those numbers are increasing, reversing a sharp downward trend that began with the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Vanessa knows that contraception and reproductive rights have changed the sexual landscape, but it really doesn't matter to her. "This is what my church taught me. And my parents and grandparents reinforced the church's teachings. But I see so many people who are just the worst Catholics. Why even be part of a church if you're going to pick and choose which commandments to follow and what part of the theology you're going to believe in? You'll have girls who get pregnant and when you ask them why they didn't use protection, they'll say, 'The Catholic Church doesn't believe in it.'

"Well, the Catholic Church doesn't believe in premarital sex, either, so why'd you do that?"

Her frustration pours forth. "If you think you're adult enough to have sex, be adult enough to (own up to) your actions. Why pretend to be a virgin if you've chosen not to be? Then they wear a white wedding gown like they're going to get away with lying to God. That's certainly getting your marriage off to a good start."

The Catholic Church, for its part, is leaving Vanessa hanging out to dry on this one. In many ways, my church has become something of a bad joke; it's really no wonder that the Mel Gibson crackpot wing of the church is beginning to look pretty attractive to some long-time Catholics.

Back in the day, the church stood for decency, chastity, good works and personal responsibility. Nowadays it stands for ... oh, I don't know, rehab for drunks and sexual deviants.

I grew up in a church where you got dressed up for mass because you were going to the house of God. And, if by some misfortune, you got there after the mass had started, you didn't enter the building. These days, people show up whenever they want wearing whatever they want and the church just shrugs. I'm surprised they haven't started handing out door prizes.

Vanessa is just going to have to stand firm in her unwillingness to share her most holy day with her unholy sister. As for the white dress, I told her I'd check with the church.

According to Diocese of Tucson spokesman Fred Allison, the virgin/white dress connection is more of a cultural thing. It's big with Hispanics and Italians and the Irish, but, surprisingly, the Catholic Church doesn't have an official policy on it. Apparently, anybody can wear white.

"But isn't white the color of purity for the Church?" I asked.

"Actually," he said, "white is not the color of purity. It's the color of ... fun."

Yes, he said, "fun!" Does that mean that Sandra, who has lived her life according to the old Was (Not Was) song that goes, "Everybody took a piece o' Anytime Lisa," is more deserving of wearing white than her sister because Sandra's had more ... FUN?

I'm sorry, Vanessa. Apparently, that whole virgin/white dress thing is just a long-running hoax. But I think you should wear white, anyway. God will know you did the right thing.

Plus, look at all the money you've saved by not having to buy Valtrex.

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