Abstinence, Chastity, and Marrying Young: Is the Sexual Backlash Good for Women?

Posted by on 05 14 13 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on Abstinence, Chastity, and Marrying Young: Is the Sexual Backlash Good for Women?

For the purposes of this article, let’s get some definitions out of the way:

Sex Positive Movement – Sex positivity might refer to a movement or ideology, or to how an individual views sexuality in general. Basically, if you are sex positive, you believe in open, safe, and consensual sex – for straight, gay, queer, pansexual, male, female, genderqueer, intersex people, i.e., everyone. If you are sex positive, you are generally okay with what other people do in their bedrooms (or kitchens or cars), again, as long as informed consent has been exchanged and everyone is practicing sex safely.

Abstinence Movement – Sexual abstinence refers to the practice of refraining from sex for reasons medical, moral, religious, or otherwise. A sexual abstinence-only education movement exists in primary schools and across college campuses, stressing abstinence-only as the best sexual choice for young women and men.

Hookup Culture – Studies report that more than half of college romantic relationships result after “hooking up” – not a date or dating or long phone calls at night, but some kind of sexual connection that is too ambiguous to define. Hooking up may mean sex, oral sex, or intense making out. Young people are hooking up irrespective of relationships; in other words, they hook-up whether or not they intend to be romantic afterward.

Slut-shaming – Slut-shaming is the practice of ridiculing or judging a woman based on clothing choices, amount or style of makeup, and/or on actual or rumored sexual practices, especially the assumption of sexual promiscuity.

Find Yourself a Husband Before it’s Too Late!

At the end of March, a proud 1977 Princeton alumna, Susan A. Patton, published a letter in the university’s press, The Daily Princetonian, which caught some national attention. Hers was a letter to university freshman women, urging them to select an intelligent husband while they still have the chance. “Here’s what nobody is telling you,” Patton wrote, “Find a husband on campus before you graduate. Yes, I went there.” She warned that if they do not, their post-graduate options for an ideal mate will be far fewer, and likely far less intelligent – suggesting this would make them unhappy and resentful later on.

Patton warned her audience further:

As freshman women, you have four classes of men to choose from. Every year, you lose the men in the senior class, and you become older than the class of incoming freshman men. So, by the time you are a senior, you basically have only the men in your own class to choose from, and frankly, they now have four classes of women to choose from. Maybe you should have been a little nicer to these guys when you were freshmen?

Reactions to Patton’s letter were understandably intense. “Has this lady never heard of OKCupid?” one blogger asked. Patton asserted that her views are feminist, and feminism offers women choice, which Patton claimed to be doing. But the divorcee and mother of two Princeton men seemed to be unaware of the choices actually available to today’s women or ignorant of the choices they are actually making.

Does it Take Marriage to Make Today’s Woman Happy?

Statistical trends indicate that not only are American women waiting longer to marry, but their first unions are more likely than ever before to be cohabitation – women aren’t afraid to shack up anymore, and for many, the freedom to do so may mean happiness. USA Today reported on a 13,000 participant study in which nearly half of participants reported cohabitation rather than marriage as their “first union.” In 1995, this number was less than 25 percent, so it has risen substantially in a short period of time, and the number of “first unions” that were unmarried cohabitations rose in every racial group except for Asian. Living together before marriage appears to a growing norm, while marrying young (or in college) is growing less common. Get with the times, Susan Patton.

A Renaissance for Female Chastity?

While Patton is urging college freshman to find husbands, others are out in droves discussing the horrors of “hookup culture” and sweetly but strongly suggesting a revival of virginity. Since 2008, an astonishing number of books on the subject have hit the shelves (and the eBook market). Some of them: Donna Freitas’ Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses; Jim Burns’ The Purity Code: God’s Plan for Sex and Your Body; Mulhaney and Bush, MD Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children (spoiler: it is affecting our children badly), and Anna Broadway’s decidedly unsexy memoir, Sexless in the City.

It has been reported that the Abstinence Movement secured federal funding for abstinence-only sex education (a reported $800 million in eight years) despite its lack of scientific veracity; abstinence-only education has never been proven successful, and according to some, may even be harmful.

Still, sex positive activists believe there is room for the renaissance of chastity as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of women’s sexual choice. Denigrating young women who are sexually active is not healthy for any group and results in a confused culture of young people who resort to slut-shaming in order to punish women for the same sexual choices that men are rewarded for: a cultural double standard close to the heart of sexism. When cultural practices tolerate or encourage the shaming of women for sexual or other reasons related to gender, studies repeatedly show a correlation in high infant mortality rates, high divorce rates, and high rates of violence against women. Virginity or “chastity” as a sexual choice for women may have some positive benefits, but not at the expense of other women.

Hookup Culture and Love?

The sex positive movement and the abstinence movement, it turns out, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A woman who chooses to be sexual, to live with her partner before marriage (or because marriage is not afforded to them due to inequality in marriage laws), may be 100 percent behind a woman who chooses abstinence, and is waiting until marriage to lose her virginity. These women can be supportive of one another’s lives and choices and may even be friends! (The author has just such a friendship.) What is not possible – yet – is for these groups, the sex positive movement and the abstinence-only movement, to be fully publically aligned. That’s a shame, because as it happens, much of the harm that may occur within the confines of “hookup culture” occurs as a result of the perception of limited choice. Young people aren’t experiencing greater emotional intimacy in their connections, and may feel there is no possibility for greater intimacy, because hookup culture tells them emotional intimacy is not a part of the bargain – it is something reserved for marriage.

But…wait. Marriage doesn’t own intimacy as we are beginning to see, and it is no longer the sole yardstick of commitment. Many live-in relationships are lasting longer and longer, and although they still may lack the cultural legitimacy of marriage, they no doubt bring the many complications and emotional benefits that come as a result of years spent in wedded matrimony. What allowed all of this – the hook-up, the live-in lover, marriage at a later date, sex or no sex as a matter of personal freedom – were the Sexual Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the LGBT Rights Movements. Today’s young people benefit from the dreams and sacrifices of generations before them, and no matter what they choose, they have the right to do so. No one said it would be easy.