Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
You know about Cosmo magazine, right? It's a racy women's magazine you see in the checkout line that delves into the world of celebrities, relationships, beauty, style, and sex—lots and lots of sex. This month, though, readers are being treated to a story that seems, at first glance, more likely to be found in a devotional magazine: the story of Carmen Briceno, daughter of a diplomat and (get this!) a consecrated virgin. Carmen is married to God.
In a respectful article that spans ten pages (at least in the on-line version), Briceno describes her early dating life, and the emptiness that she gradually came to recognize as a yearning for God. Carmen first experienced the longing for Christ in early adulthood, when she played volleyball with a young Christian woman who was deeply spiritual. Then in 2005, Carmen attended World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, where she met others who were “on fire for God” and she felt the first inkling of what would become her vocation.
Briceno was drawn to consecrated virginity because of its beautiful, ancient roots. “In the early church,” Carmen explained,
“...women made private vows to belong fully to Christ and not marry. These were the early virgin martyrs like Agatha and Lucy, who were executed for not wanting to marry Roman citizens because they were already vowed to God. They lived in their families and dedicated themselves to works of mercy in their community. They loved the Lord so much they wanted to give all of themselves to Him.”
Longing for a way to permanently declare her love for Christ, Carmen persuaded her Diocese and her bishop to accept her petition to become a consecrated virgin. She explains her vocation:
“People have asked if I can be as dedicated to my faith without having to marry Christ. The answer is yes, I absolutely could—but I can't be married to another man while also fully giving myself to God in the way that God wants for me. Because in that case, my main vocation would be a wife. In consecrated virginity, though, I give God the freedom to use me whenever and however he wants. All of me is His.”
Carmen Briceno has been a consecrated virgin for seven years. During that period, the women who have been fed a steady stream of “sexual freedom” stories by Cosmo and daytime tv and our pleasure-obsessed culture may have had many sexual partners. Chances are, though, that they have not encountered another woman as vibrantly in love—and for at least some of the readers who meet Carmen through her article, there's plenty to think about. That Cosmo was willing to share Carmen's story, without a raised eyebrow or a smirk, is to their credit.
Cosmo's Origins as a Family Magazine
Cosmo (more formally known as Cosmopolitan) began as a family magazine in 1886; but after the turn of the century it morphed into a literary magazine, featuring the writing of notable authors including Sinclair Lewis, O.Henry, George Bernard Shaw, Jack London and others.
But Cosmo's readership continued in a downward spiral until 1965, when Helen Gurley Brown became executive editor and refashioned the periodical—targeting single women, positioning a scantily-clad young woman on the cover, and talking incessantly about sexuality. Both married and single women, Brown believed, should be able to enjoy sex without guilt. The first issue under Helen Gurley Brown's editorial leadership featured an article on the birth control pill, which was new at the time and which, along with abortion, held out a false promise of satisfaction of sexual urges without repercussions. Cosmo's secular, sexual message reached mainstream audiences, making its readers feel truly free to climb into bed with whomever they wished. Sexual liberation became the magazine's mantra.
Today, the 3 million women who subscribe to Cosmo or who pick it up in the supermarket checkout line may have never heard about Pope John Paul II's “Theology of the Body,” about the nuptial meaning of the body, or about the blessed joy that comes in making a lifelong commitment in marriage. All they know is, sex is fun. Orgasm is imperative.
A Return to Cosmo's Family Roots?
Carmen Briceno's story of elective virginity must be a shock to some of the magazine's regular readers. It's not, however, the only “virginity” story the magazine has published this year. In August 2016, Cosmo told the story of Margaret, a 79-year-old virgin, who was marrying her fiance Henry, age 85, in her local Catholic church. The elderly couple, while deeply in love, planned to delay their first sexual encounter until after the wedding.
Do these stories signal a reversal of Cosmo's “anything goes” approach to human sexuality? Well, they're sandwiched between articles on “leaked sex tapes” and “male escorts” and “the best sexual positions”; so any widespread change in the magazine's format seems unlikely at this time.
But whether Cosmo is publishing the story simply to test the market, or because the magazine's editors can see the value in these personal accounts of virtue and chastity, there will be some among their readers who are deeply touched, and who will come to see that “real love” is built not on short-term pleasure but on faith and trust and commitment. Some readers will linger wistfully, praying to God with an unfamiliar fervor. For that, let us be truly grateful.