In “Sexual Purity” I talked about why I object the use of the phrase in my rural, Christian corner of Western society. But now I want to talk about the theory of sexual purity. First, let me explain the theory as it was taught to me:
In short, couples should avoid crossing a predetermined boundary in their physical relationship. The boundary exists to help couples avoid premarital sex. Sex belongs within the holy institute of marriage and is only ordained therein. As a girl, guys won’t want to marry you if you ‘give up the goods,’ because you’ll have proven yourself ‘too easy’– junior prey on their sexual conquest.
Some pastors are quite blunt about the second message, such as traveling-speaker Mark Gungor, who joked that “if it weren’t for the ‘place of happiness’” (signified by a smiley face on the crotch of a human figure,) “we wouldn’t even bother with ya!” (I genuinely can’t think of a pastor who’s awkwardly comedic attempts at mass counseling have angered me more.)*
It was understood by me and my female peers that our bodies were bait and men were fish, and we couldn’t let them bite before we were ready to reel them in. So toss your breadcrumbs. Let him hold your hand, and a few weeks after that he can kiss you. But don’t give up the goods until you’ve suckered him into marriage.
Certainly this is the somewhat cynical version of the theory, but whether or not it was the intended message, this is what I and many of my friends came to understand about relationships. For the sake of fairness, however, let me delve into the two basic sexuality doctrines as they exist in their purest form:
- Sex (intercourse) is reserved for marriage.
- Pre-marital sex detracts from from future marital relationships. (Even if you end up marrying your sex partner, some believe your marriage to that person will suffer for having ‘indulged’ prematurely.)
Let me address the second statement first. I find it odd, and unconvincing that having a sexual relationship with someone you eventually marry (and let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, no negative external pressures contributed to the selection of this person), should have negative effects on the relationship after you get married (again, let’s assume this sexual relationship was relatively healthy). Now if one is plagued by guilt (which I addressed in Sexual Purity) that could cause problems. But if the guilt factor may be removed, and all parties are safe, consenting, trusting, and responsible, what is the harm? Personally, I believe fewer sexual attachments offers simplicity to my romantic life. I also believe people should be deliberate and thoughtful in developing their sexual ideology for themselves.
My problem with the first statement is that ‘marriage’ is difficult to define. At its core, marriage is a commitment to live and strive with another human being. In some cultures this simply means moving in together. In other cultures a marriage is socially recognized by an extensive ceremony full of symbolic elements like rings, a white ceremonial dress, flowers, and a person to officiate the solemnization of the relationship. In other cultures the act of sexual intercourse is what socially defines a spousal relatiosnship. Ultimately, however, people do not commit themselves to one another because of ceremonies, or even written contracts. People get married because they’re already committed to one another. The decision to submit the heart and mind to the perpetual bargain of marriage has already been made; the wedding ceremony exists to symbolize and solemnize what has already taken place.
Yet it seems that in much of America (and certainly in mainline, moderate, Christian culture), the thing being symbolized (commitment) has been subordinated to the symbol which represents it (weddings). Connotatively, to ‘get married’ is to have a wedding. But a marriage is so much more than that. And the reality of a marriage, to my mind, is not threatened by lack of symbolism.
I don’t believe in the concept of pre-marital sex because the word ‘marriage,’ in my culture, is too tied up with contracts and white dresses. ”It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that ring,” people joke. But it’s not funny. Relationships are not suddenly endowed with meaning when the commitment becomes public. My relationship has meaning now to me, and my partner (David), and to our friends and family. And it is the commitment we have right now that will be showcased whenever we walk the aisle and sign the contract. If by ‘premarital sex’ one means sex without the commitment central to marriage, there is a valuable relationship theory conversation to be had. If by ‘premarital sex’ one means sex before the wedding ceremony that symbolizes marriage, I fear we have lost the forest for the trees.
*See comment for footnote.
- Three Problems with Sexual Purity (psychologytoday.com)
- Myths About the “Love Hormone” (io9.com)
- Why Get Married? The Value of Commitment (psychologytoday.com)
- The Idol of Purity (atheistslut.com)