Sunday, June 26, 2005

a very long post on sex (or the lack thereof)

Most of this week, I was working probably about 13 hours a day. 8 am till 11:30 pm, with maybe a couple hours break to eat lunch and dinner. Thursday at around 4:30 pm, something in my brain must have snapped off, because work was suddenly no longer possible. That presentation I was supposed to finish the next morning? It had to wait. So what do you think I did next? That's right, I read every blog I could think of, and then some. I started with Dawn Eden who had a post on the Rolling Stones article "The Young and the Sexless". A very interesting read, and quite astonishing. The article's author is obviously astounded to learn that there are young people who choose to remain sexually pure. He seems to find the idea a bit baffling, and in one or two sentences makes the inevitable connection to right-wing politics (because of course, anyone who is a virgin by choice must agree with whatever the Republican party says) , but overall, I found the story to have a rather positive attitude toward abstinence. Based on what I'm used to hearing from secular sources about the matter, I was surprised.

After reading that article, however, I was far from done. The article mentioned a blogger, Anna Broadway of Sexless in the City. I decided to spend some time over there, perusing old posts and enjoying the refreshing, irreverent way she describes living (or at least attempting to live) a life of sexual purity.

A few people commenting on the above articles and posts have brought up a question of whether describing yourself so often as abstinent is really the proper thing to do. If you do this, aren't you just being rebellious against the current culture for the sake of being rebellious? Shouldn't you be concentrating on your relationship with Christ, rather than defining yourself by what you don't do? Although this may be true for some people, I would bet that for most us who freely describe ourselves as abstinent, including Anna B., this characterization is completely off. Defining ourselves by what they don't do? I don't think we're the ones that define ourselves that way. I mean sure, Anna Broadway's blog is called "Sexless in the City." It's attention-grabbing and funny. I would suspect, however, that there's more to Ms. Broadway than that.

For the secular world, those who choose not to have sex seem to have made a baffling and rather arbitrary decision. I can guarantee, if that's the way abstinence really was, it simply wouldn't work. Choosing not to have sex just because it's mainstream or because someone said that it was bad... that choice can't last too long. In order to remain sexually pure, a person must be convinced that premarital sex is harmful to both parties involved, and must have enough respect for him/herself and his/her "significant other" to choose not to harm either one. This type of respect comes only from a true knowledge of self-worth and the worth of others; it cannot come from simply avoiding sex.

This is something that the world does not understand and, from what I've seen, has no desire to understand. I remember before class a couple years ago, people were discussing the idea of abstinence-based sex ed., mostly talking about how terrible it is, it doesn't work, it's fear-based and anti-sex or some such thing. I tried sharing about my sex ed., which was very abstinence-based and very, as Dawn Eden said, "sex positive". Basically, as a Catholic school, we had the freedom to be not only abstinence-based, but more broadly chastity-based. And yes, we did learn about contraception, enough that we would be able to use it and know where to find it if we wanted to, but the point of this was primarily for information and never did it seem to me that they were condoning sex before marriage. Well, that's what I was going to tell them, but I didn't get passed my first sentence. I said, "You know, my school sex ed. was very abstinence-based, and they did a very good job of not just saying, 'don't have sex,' but of describing the reasons behind that decision." "Yeah," my instructor replied, "like, 'if you have sex before marriage you'll go to hell.'" So much for fostering an informative and open class environment.

I guess I shouldn't blame them, though, for not understanding where we're coming from on the issue of abstinence. Sure, the few times I've tried to explain it, it hasn't been too well received, but then there have only been a few times when I've really tried to explain it. That's partly because I often assume that I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to these subjects, but maybe that assumption is wrong. A couple months ago, one of my fellow grad students, Dancing Queen, told me, laughing, "I had a dream that you were against premarital sex." Interesting... "Are you sure it was just a dream?" I asked. Normally when I'm really surprised about something, I laugh, but I couldn't quite pull it off this time. Dancing Queen is a good friend of mine. We spend lots of time together, and I've certainly never tried to hide anything about my faith or moral values from her. I was completely shocked. I guess it's just something I thought everyone knew about me. So what I'm learning is, despite the fact that people may see it as "defining myself by a negative," maybe I should be more open about what I believe.

According to the article, one of the people interviewed describes abstinence as "a kind of rebellion, he says, against materialism, consumerism and 'the idea that anything can be bought and sold.'" Sex pervades our culture, and a message of chastity is necessary in order to keep our motives pure and our thinking straight. But as a speaker explained at a recent retreat that I went on, there's another idea, perhaps at times less blatant, that also pervades our culture. That is the idea of disposability. The idea of use. The idea that we can get what we want without having to accept the consequences of our actions or deal with their results. The obvious example the speaker pointed out was fast food. His actual words were something like fast, easy, and disposable. Like McDonald's. I thought of the cookie dough they make now with easy-to-break squares in the perfect size for all the benefit of homemade cookies and none of the time, work, or cleanup afterward. And with your plastic wrappers and paper cups, let someone else worry about what to do with the landfills. What comes next? Get rich quick! Lose weight fast! Plastic surgery is a nice way to look better quickly and easily. But after that, we begin to think we can easily dispose of other things. It quickly becomes more serious as we turn our actions to the use of people. Premarital sex, or any over-emphasis on the physicality of a relationship, can easily turn us to a belief that we're in the relationship for our own satisfaction, and that the other person is also in it for his own satisfaction. Such a belief cannot draw two people together in a way that will last. When the satisfaction and emotional aspects of love disappear, what's left? Try to get rid of that relationship, too, as painlessly as possible.

We should make sure we don't define ourselves by the negative, always striving instead to follow Christ's example in every relationship. Some people may be surprised to learn that our lives aren't about the sexual equivalent of cutting down as many trees as we can while not eating at McDonald's. However, we shouldn't be worried if the world doesn't understand. Like Jesus, we should expect and even hope to be made "a sign that will be contradicted," speaking out against the world, not for the sake of rebellion, but with an attitude of love.

Romans 12:2 - Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

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