Let's Get Real About Sex and Marriage
Thursday, December 15, 2011Tweet
This is a follow-up to my last post, in which I explained that I care a lot more about whether people are having sex in a context of love and service than whether they're married. I want to talk some more about why I'm willing -- and why I think it's important -- to share these kinds of beliefs that run contrary to the usual Christian talking points. But first...
Given my repeated defense of those who choose to have sex outside of marriage, you might find it strange that I personally saved sex -- and my first kiss -- for marriage. Here's why it makes sense to me.
I have zero regrets about saving sex for marriage. As I've said previously, to me marriage meant a commitment of unconditional love. And as I said in my previous post, I believe that sex should be in a context of love, and to me, that couldn't be conditional love. I felt that because the gift of my body in sex was one of the most valuable gifts I could give to someone, I didn't want to give that gift outside of a lifelong commitment.
I know this isn't true for everyone, and I don't pretend everyone is like me, but if I'd had sex with someone other than Mike, I would have felt like I left a piece of myself with that other person that could never be recovered. And until I made a commitment at the altar to Mike, I couldn't feel confident that we would be together forever either, and I didn't want to risk that. Waiting meant that once we were married, I could give my whole self to him with no worries and no reservations.
And if he'd turned out to be abusive or controlling, sexually or otherwise? That wouldn't have been OK, despite the rings on our fingers. Abuse is abuse is abuse.
I waited because I knew that it was a decision that would put me most at peace with myself, and I believed it would have the fewest negative consequences for me. And it had many positive consequences, as Mike and I spent our five years of "courting" time really getting to know each other (we weren't kissing, so there was plenty of opportunity to talk!) so when we got married, I felt confident that I knew, as much as I could, the person I was committing my life to.
So that's me. And if that's you, too, then more power to you. If it's not, I hope that you have thought through your own beliefs about what sex means to you, what marriage means to you, and how you can act in a way that is congruent with your own values. I care way more about all of those things than whether you and your sexual partner are married.
The problem I see with laying down rules like "sex can only happen in marriage" is the same one I talked about in How Short-Term Fear Makes Your Children Bad Loves: It's an external guideline that people can either follow or not follow. If someone doesn't agree with your rule about sex and marriage (or your religion's rule or your religion's interpretation of the Bible), they're just not going to follow it. Continuing to beat someone over the head with your black-and-white beliefs isn't going to change our culture, and it's definitely not going to help with the actual problems we should be concerned about when it comes to sex, from the big problems of sexual violence and abuse down to adolescent confusion about sexuality and what constitutes consent.
We need much more than rules if we're going to start tackling real problems that cause real hurt to thousands of people.
We need to be having conversations about what it means to have a healthy sexuality, to be comfortable with your own body, to have standards for who you have sex with and when that are consistent with your own personal values, to talk with your partner about sex, and to take your partner's desires and comfort level into account.
We need to stop pointing fingers at whole groups of people: gays, or unmarried partners, or whoever, and trying to blame them for problems like pedophilia and sexual assault. We need to look deeper and work harder to figure out the real reasons these things happen, and then find ways to bring help and interventions to those people whose distorted views of reality cause them to use sex as a tool.
We need new frames and new discussions of right and wrong when it comes to sex: Not married vs. unmarried, but loving, serving, and accommodating vs. abusing and coercing. (Not that it's that black and white either.)
It frustrates me when people want to shut the door on conversations about sex by boiling everything down to "This is what my religion says. This is what the Bible says. If you're doing it this way, you're right, and if you're doing it this way, you're wrong. End of story."
I think that, as in so many other situations (see also: overpopulation and abortion), we can easily get sucked into having the wrong conversation.* Sometimes I have conversations with people who are spouting rhetoric they've heard from their religion about how the world works, and I want to say, "Are you actually looking at the world around you? Are you talking to real people, who are different from you, about their lives? Because I feel like all it takes is going out your front door and looking around you to realize that gay people or unmarried people or 'liberals' or whoever else aren't all how you've been told they are."
I linked to an article on my Facebook page yesterday called "What's a Christian to Do with Dan Savage?". Essentially the author says that while he's not entirely sure Dan's views on sex are "Christian" (and certainly many would say they're not), he keeps coming back to hear what Dan has to say because it's a way more realistic and open conversation about sex than is happening in Christian circles.
I don't mean this to come off as preachy or judgmental. I'm just so tired of dogma running our conversations of serious issues. I want to start talking about things as they really happen, in a way that makes sense. I want people to disagree with me in a way that makes sense, and not simply because their version of truth is different than my version of truth.
Sometimes I think this is a pipe dream, and that I should be saving my breath rather than trying to reason and discuss with someone who sees everything in concrete, immoveable moral categories.
But then I read something like this article and the amazing responses it generated, and I think maybe there's hope after all.
So I keep writing.
*Overpopulation: I think the wrong conversation is "The world is overpopulated" vs. "The world is not overpopulated." I'd rather ask, "Is every person able to get food, shelter, and basic care, and if not, what can we do about it?"
Abortion: I think the wrong conversation is "Abortion should be illegal" vs. "Abortion should be legal." I'd rather ask, "What leads to fewer abortions? How can we make alternatives to abortion more practical?"