Where Logic Meets Love

The Wrong Way to Talk about Abstinence and Marriage

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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The Wrong Way to Talk about Abstinence and Marriage | Faith Permeating Life

I'm a little bit late to the party on this one, but a friend asked me to comment on this "Waiting till the wedding night -- getting married the right way" article, so I'll share my thoughts.

This will be coming from the perspective of someone who did wait until I was married to have sex with (or kiss) my husband. I also invite you to check out perfectnumber628's response as someone who isn't married but plans not to have sex until she's married.

A lot of what I find problematic about this article are things I've discussed in previous posts, but I'll go through and break it down with links.

The basic message and tone of the article, and the reason people are reacting so strongly to it, is "My wife and I waited to have sex, so we did everything right and perfectly, and I judge and pity all of you who didn't wait, who did it wrong, and have a meaningless and unsatisfying marriage because of it."

The writer, Steven Crowder, apparently believes that he has every right to judge other people's relationships because so many people judged him and his wife and believed they'd never make it to their wedding day without having sex. You know what? People judged us too. I wrote a post about why waiting until marriage isn't as stupid as it sounds. And the very first thing I said was that I wanted to respond to the people who criticized us without judging those who didn't make the same decision that we did.

If you want to tell people they were wrong for judging you, then by all means talk about how fantastically happy you are that you waited. Talk about how all of the accusations thrown at you were false, and that everything worked out exactly how you hoped. But there is no reason that this has to include a sweeping indictment of everyone who made a different decision than you. Talking about the benefits of abstinence you experienced does not in any way necessitate slamming on people who are not abstinent.

The second issue I have is that Crowder boxes everyone into two cartoonishly simplistic groups: those who wait, who have a perfect, amazing, beautiful experience of getting married and having sex, and those who don't, who are promiscuous whores doomed to a life of sexual disappointment.

Seriously. This is how he characterizes those who said he'd never succeed in being abstinent until marriage: "I think that the women saying those things felt like the floozies they ultimately were, and the men, with their fickle manhood tied to their pathetic sexual conquests, felt threatened."

He addresses those who are wondering whether to "become a live-in harlot/mimbo and do it the world's way" by telling them they'd be happier doing it the right way, like he did.

As I've said before, by all means shout it from the rooftops if you're happy about your decision, but don't assume everyone who makes a different decision is automatically ruining their life.

He compares his and his wife's experience to another couple they met the morning after their wedding to illustrate how terrible it is not to do things the way he and his wife did. (As my friend pointed out, this story is possibly made up, as it starts out with "we overheard the table next to us discussing their very own wedding from the night prior" and then the punchline is that the groom's not even there because he's sleeping off a hangover.) It's completely ridiculous to try to say "Everyone who waits will have an experience just like ours, and everyone who doesn't will have an experience like this couple's."

Guess what? There are lots of people who have sex before marriage and have really happy, healthy marriages and satisfying sex lives. Even though I didn't have sex before marriage and am happy with that decision, it would be completely stupid of me to lie and try to deny other people's experiences and feelings simply because they don't fit with my personal narrative. And also, there are people who do wait until they're married and have horrible, horrible sexual experiences because of an abusive spouse. The "waiting = good, not waiting = bad" narrative is WAY too simplistic to be taken seriously.

Another issue I have is that this article perpetuates the myth of amazing honeymoon sex. Crowder explicitly says, "Our wedding night was nothing short of amazing." I sincerely doubt that these two virgins had truly amazing, mind-blowing sex on their wedding night, but it's written as if to imply that: i.e., we did things right, and our reward was fantastic wedding night sex.

By contrast, I've tried to be upfront about the fact that sex is kind of difficult when you're just starting out. We certainly had a lot more to learn in the first weeks, months, year of our marriage than couples who had regularly had sex prior to getting married, but for me the tradeoff was more than worth it, to do that learning with someone I trusted completely who had made a lifelong commitment to me. However, this kind of nuanced message wouldn't have fit with Crowder's narrative of "If you do it the right way, like us, your reward is that everything is perfect and amazing."

If you truly believe that waiting until you're married to have sex was a great choice for you, then I see nothing wrong with telling the world that. But casting sweeping judgment on people not like you, calling others names, lumping everyone into simplistic categories, and vastly exaggerating yours and others' experiences is NOT the way to go about it.

What are your thoughts on this article? How can we encourage better conversations around sex, abstinence, and marriage?

17 comments:

  1. When I saw this article last week, I was quite appalled. I understand his reasoning for not having sex before marriage, and similar to the perfectnumber628, I will not have sex until marriage. But you are absolutely right in that waiting doesn't result in perfect, amazing, wonderful sex and not waiting results in the opposite.

    I feel like the way this post is written perpetuates the view that sex is a bad thing. Although he doesn't give explicit details about what they did or did not do prior to marriage (like we don't know if they ever held hands/kissed/made out/whatever), the way he writes implies that if you do anything remotely sexual, you did it wrong. And that is (I believe) an incorrect view of things and a dangerous message to teach to youth. That's the message I got growing up and the result for many of my friends who got married was not perfect honeymoon sex but a lot of difficult leading up to an early in the marriage dealing with the guilt they felt because for so long they'd been told that sex and any sexual activity is a bad thing. People seem to think that your sexuality is like a light switch. You keep it turned off until you're married and then when you put the ring on, the switch is magically flipped and you're all in touch with your sexuality. It doesn't work that way.

    I think, as a Church (collectively, barring denominational differences), there needs to be a way for youth and young adults to have an open dialogue about the reality of sex, because if we keep preaching abstinence without reason or the "sex is bad" myth, it's going to continue to make things difficult for young people down the road.

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    1. You keep it turned off until you're married and then when you put the ring on, the switch is magically flipped and you're all in touch with your sexuality.
      Yeah, and I think this is a terrible and false message to be sending for a number of reasons. For one thing, it denies the fact that people who aren't married are still sexual beings, and gives people no real guidance on how to handle that fact other than "just don't do anything, it's bad." And then, it makes it seem as if, once you're married, you should just suddenly know exactly what to do and everything will be fantastic. It sets people up for disappointment in a number of ways -- disappointment that abstaining from sex is harder than people made it out to be, and then disappointment that married sex isn't as immediately fantastic as everyone said it would be.

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  2. What a horrible way to think, 'my way or the highway' pretty much. I guess both sides have plenty of judgy people. Some people who have sex before marriage often think people who don't must be religious zealots who are asexual and abnormal, while people who wait think people who have sex before marriage are harlots with no morals who have meaningless sex with just about anyone.

    I for one am not married and am having sex. Although in hindsight I would have waited a few more years than I did before having sex, I am now in a loving happy relationship with a guy I am sure I will marry in the next few years. I do not feel guilty or ashamed at all that we have sex. It's meaningful and a way to express intimacy. It won't make getting married some day any less special.

    Be that as it may I would never judge anyone for wanting to wait. It's not common in Belgium and I've never encountered anyone who waited, but I wouldn't think it's weird, I'd actually love to hear more about why they decided to wait and how it works for them.

    I agree with Sarah, society needs to be more open with young people about the choices they can make. Not just inforce abstinence, we all know how good that works.. but perhaps have a normal discussion about why some people choose to wait, that it's important to have sex with the right person etc. but also about sexuality, birth control, ..
    Youths can make up their own mind. If they really want to do it they will, if you preach abstinence or not.
    In my school we had great sexual education classes, there was a whole week devoted to it when we were about 14 (also including talks about puberty etc.). Unfortunately although they said to make sure, when you have sex, to have it with someone special to you, they never mentioned the option of 'waiting'.
    If perhaps they did, maybe some people wouldn't have thought that 'someone special' was their first boyfriend who they dated for a whole two months.

    It's all about given all the information and giving people the option to choose what they feel is right for them. There is no one perfect way, there is only your perfect way.

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    1. There's definitely judgmental people on both sides, which was the point of my "A Plea for Sanity" post last year. And I have problems with both kinds of judgments -- the kind in this article, and the kind people made about us -- because they're based in false assumptions that everyone who acts a certain way is the same kind of person with the same reasons who will have the same exact experience.

      That's really interesting to hear about your experience with sex education in Belgium. I'm a big proponent of comprehensive sex ed, which, in the US, means teaching about options other than abstinence until marriage. (Many schools, particularly religious ones, still teach abstinence-only sex education.) But I absolutely think that abstinence until marriage should still be included as a viable option.

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    2. Little redhead, I really like your comments. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, and we didn't receive any meaningful education regarding sex itself. However, I do feel like they pounded into us the emotional nature of sex, the idea that if a guy won't wait for you, he's not worth it, and the biological timing of getting pregnant.

      On the other hand, when talking to friends who went to non-religious school, it seems like they learned about the information about sex and condoms, but missed the emotional pieces.

      I really believe in presenting all the information/options and letting people make their own choices. I really do think it's terrible that abstinence isn't often presented as a viable choice but also that in other settings, it's presented as the only choice and kids miss valuable sex education. It's terrible that many kids only get one side or the other in sex education.

      I'd certainly want my kids to learn about the good of abstinence as much as about sex and how to take care of themselves if they're going to have sex. I want kids to understand how emotional sex is and be able to weigh that in their decision-making whereas it seems like some people have been caught off guard by that after the fact.

      People can make their own choices.

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  3. I saw that article and I thought, "Wow, how unspeakably obnoxious. Way to cut yourself off from anyone listening to you."
    I did wait, and I think it's the right thing to do. (Which doesn't mean I believe everyone who does or thinks differently is somehow worse than me or ruining their life--I do wrong things all day long, every day, and most of them, thank God, don't ruin my life.) I don't think anyone who thinks differently is going to be convinced by this article.
    The myth of amazing honeymoon sex is, I think, a cousin to the "soulmate" myth and many other romantic myths that run at all parts of our culture: the idea that if you just get everything "right" (by whatever standard that is), you will have a magical, amazing, trouble-free relationship. It does make a difference marrying someone who is a good match, but all skills and relationships need time and opportunity to grow. And the dark underside of these myths is that if you run into trouble, you start thinking you must be with the wrong person.

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    1. I don't think anyone who thinks differently is going to be convinced by this article.
      Agreed, and what concerns me about having this message on such a large platform is not simply that it's ineffective, but that it actually reinforces stereotypes that those who wait until marriage are smug, self-righteous [insert expletive here]s who are completely out of touch with the real world.

      the idea that if you just get everything "right" (by whatever standard that is), you will have a magical, amazing, trouble-free relationship.
      Ugh, yes. I dislike any variation of this message for exactly the reason you gave -- when it doesn't turn out the way people have been promised, they start thinking there's something wrong with them, their partner, their relationship. This writer seems to want to point the finger at anyone having trouble in their relationship and say, "This is because you had sex before marriage" -- but what about those who did wait, and still didn't end up with a perfect relationship? What message are they supposed to take away?

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  4. My favorite part is the huge dramatic anecdote in the middle, in which he encounters a newlywed woman (and some other people from their wedding?) who is incredibly happy with her relationship, had a blast the previous night at her wedding, and has an utterly rocking sex life.

    His response, of course, is to jump straight to heartrending pity for this poor creature and her empty, meaningless facsimile of being; a woman whose mere presence could cause one to forget the existence of anything but bleak despair, were it not for the inspiration to be drawn from her nigh-miraculous ability to get herself out of bed in the morning, and — much, much more importantly — the stark contrast by which her ontological void of a “life” highlights the truly staggering superiority of the author’s own marriage (and, indeed, his very person).

    Frankly, I suspect he gives her too much credit when he states: ‘Our “weddings” were the same event in name only. They know it, and we know it.’ I simply cannot imagine that such a pitiful thing can have a consciousness capable of grasping the futility of its own existence without having ended it by now. Perhaps she can be said to be “self-aware,” in a technical sense, but I maintain that she is in fact *legitimately ignorant* of the degree to which the author’s wedding was both better and more important than her own in every significant way.

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    1. This reminds me of something discussed in the book Stumbling on Happiness, about how people refuse to believe that conjoined twins could be truly happy. They say things like, "They just think they're happy because they've never experienced x, y, and z." But what value is there in denying someone else's experience of happiness? In this case, admitting that someone who made a different choice could actually be happy would undermine his point, so he has to take someone else's experience, draw some (in my opinion) radical conclusions from it, and use it as an example of everything that's wrong with not being him.

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  5. Ooh, suddenly you're not taking comments from "name+URL" people? Let's see if I can get OpenID to work....

    I agree completely with your response to the article.

    The one other thing I noticed, though, is that the crucial difference between the author's wedding and that of the woman in the restaurant was not the SEX but the ALCOHOL. I mean, I think that's what we're supposed to infer from her smirking and saying, “Let’s just say that he’s got a lingering headache from a really good time last night.”--that he drank a whole lot. If that's the case, then it's because he was obliteratingly drunk that they either didn't have sex or had blundering drunken sex. It's not because they'd had sex before. You could argue that he wouldn't have done so much drinking if that were his night to have sex for the first time, but seeing as you've never met or even seen the guy, how do you know he isn't newly 21 and enthralled by an open bar, or that he and his wife didn't make a mutual decision to party with their guests last night and enjoy each other tonight? It's not fair to extrapolate a stranger's attitude about sex from his attitude about alcohol.

    Oh, and by the way, did you notice that the author DOES NOT KNOW WHETHER THE OTHER COUPLE HAD HAD SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE? He just assumes they must have, because if they hadn't then they would be having breakfast together The Right Way, too.

    Look again at her smirking comment: “Let’s just say that he’s got a lingering headache from a really good time last night.” Maybe the good time was sexual, not alcohol-induced. Maybe they had so much incredible sex (whether it was their first time or not) that it screwed up [pun intended] his circulation or electrolyte balance or something and caused a headache and exhaustion. I've known this to happen. Perhaps the author never had this experience, but he's only had one night to try. How does he know the other couple didn't have even better sex than he and his wife did?

    Meh. He's a big judgmental jerk. He's lucky to have found someone who wants to be with him.
    ---'Becca @ The Earthling's Handbook

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    1. Sorry about that! I got hit with about 50 spam comments the other day and turned off Anonymous comments because I got tired of deleting them out of my inbox. They're back on now.

      Yeah, there was a lot that was messed up about that anecdote he shared about the other couple -- I started to write about the alcohol aspect and then decided it was too tangential. His entire argument about that seems to be that if you have sex before marriage, then your wedding night is nothing special to you, so therefore you will get drunk without a care. But if you wait to have sex, then the wedding night will be so sacred to you that you will not want to affect it with one drop of alcohol. Thus if you do drink at your wedding, that automatically means you had sex before marriage and don't care about your wedding at all. That is a LOT of assumptions to make.

      I still think he probably exaggerated the story as it was -- for one thing, who turns to a random couple the day after getting married and says, "The thing is, nothing's really changed"? And even if she did, how could they know that she was referring to sex anyway? Or that they'd even had sex at that point? We didn't have sex on our wedding night. Maybe she married an alcoholic and thought that getting married would change him, but when he got drunk on their wedding night and didn't show up for breakfast the next morning she realized "nothing had changed."

      I think the most likely explanation is that they overheard another couple talking about their wedding, asked them outright if they felt different now that they were married, and when they said no, took that to mean that they hadn't saved sex for marriage and therefore marriage was meaningless to them because it hadn't served as a clear delineation in their physical intimacy. Then, realizing that that wasn't a very convincing argument, he embellished the story to include a hungover groom who wasn't even at the breakfast table having the conversation in the first place because marriage was such a sham to him that he didn't mind getting trashed. Or something. The whole thing is pretty ridiculous.

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  6. Great post- I agree SO MUCH! You hit on a lot of really good points- like the idea that there are 2 types of people: sluts who have meaningless sex all the time with everyone and live a horrible sad life, and perfect people who "wait" and get rewarded with a perfect relationship and wonderful sex.

    I think a lot of the "reasons" traditionally given to not have sex are messed-up- the thinking is "if you do everything right, then God will definitely reward you with a perfect relationship." And the idea that honeymoon sex is awesome and will make all that "waiting" totally worth it. I never even thought to question that until very recently. Hmm, maybe the first time is not so great because you don't have a clue what you're doing. If so, that doesn't take anything away from the argument that it's good to "wait" until marriage- it just means you learn it with someone who's totally committed to you- which sounds like the ideal situation to me.

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    1. that doesn't take anything away from the argument that it's good to "wait" until marriage- it just means you learn it with someone who's totally committed to you- which sounds like the ideal situation to me.
      Exactly -- I think that being honest about how awkward and difficult sex can be at first is actually a better argument for abstinence than this idea that "if you just wait until you're married, everything will be magically wonderful and perfect." I actually feel like I had a pretty good understanding in high school, from reading various things, about what first-time sex is like, and that was a big reason I wanted to wait until I was married.

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  7. I found your blog via From Two To One, and I love this post. That article was posted and reposted time and time again by Facebook friends, and it was incredibly grating for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I was really offended for my friends who had not decided to wait till marriage for sex (newsflash: don't assume even your Bible college peers waited). First of all, what if they made (what they felt) was a mistake by having sex before marriage? There is NO redemption or grace for them anywhere in that article. What if they were victims of rape or sexual assault? Well, if they're not virgins, no hope for their marriage. What if they didn't wait and are super happy with that decision *gasp*?

    That article is appalling, and should especially be so for Christians who claim grace as one of our strongest values.

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    1. Glad you came by the blog! You make some excellent points about how the article falls in line with the "purity myth" that someone who has sex (even against their will) is forever "tainted" in some way. It's a terrible and, as you point out, anti-Christian way of thinking.

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  8. Exactly my thoughts. I did a blog post on this too, though it isn't exactly as eloquent as yours(I was quite wound up!)

    http://thefateshavespoken.blogspot.com/2012/10/judging-other-people-getting-married.html

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    1. I don't blame you for being wound up! It was an extremely rude and judgmental article.

      I think I must have hidden the right people from my newsfeed because I never saw this article until it was e-mailed to me by a friend (who saw it on someone else's Facebook page, which seems to be how most people initially learned about it). Or else I just have friends who know better than to post judgmental crap like this!

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