In an essay called “My Christian virginity pledge nearly destroyed me”, which published on XOJane and Salon earlier this month, Samantha Pugsley vilified the pledge she signed in childhood at church. With it, she had vowed at 10 years old — while she still thought boys were icky — to maintain her virginity until marriage. And she did.
But “there was no chorus of angels, no shining light from Heaven” when on her wedding night, she finally had sex. Instead, she cried in the bathroom afterward. She dreaded sex for the first couple years of her marriage, she wrote, but obliged when her husband — who had no idea she dreaded it — initiated. When she worked up the courage to express her struggle to him, he was horrified to learn that she had “let him touch (her) when (she) didn’t want him to.” He suggested she see a therapist, and she did. That “was the first step on a long journey to healing.”
Pugsley’s widely circulated story has raised concern in some readers, who wonder now whether saving sex for marriage is a bad idea. It has “confirmed” for other readers their belief that what Christianity says about sex harms the people who hear it. But what Pugsley wrote — and what others who grew up in churches like hers have written — has not acknowledged a paramount truth:
What her church taught her about sex is not what churches are supposed to teach about sex, because what her church taught her doesn’t align with Christianity.
A couple weeks ago, I curled up on the couch, pumped for the series premier of a show I was sure would strike a chord or a nerve: Virgin Territory. In it, young adults who haven’t had sex discuss what life’s like for a virgin. Some have committed to abstaining from sex outside marriage. Others are looking for somebody with whom to sleep.
The first episode, in which MTV followed Lisa Potts during the days that led up to her wedding, struck a chord. Potts, a Christian, saved sex for marriage. The second episode, in which cast member Mikaela went on the “honey hunt” in L.A. and cast member Kyle crafted a hot cocoa/horse-and-carriage date with a girl with whom his friends hoped he’d “seal the deal,” struck a nerve.
Both episodes, which introduced viewers to a handful of the 15 cast members who’ll show up throughout the season, inspired me to shout stuff at the screen. Here are four of the statements I shouted, with explanations:
1. TALL, TATTOOS, KHAKIS AND CHUCKS IS NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION! In a video diary-style monologue, Mikaela — a 19-year-old virgin who is interested in meeting a man with whom to have sex — described her perfect guy: He’s taller than she is, has lots of tattoos, and wears khaki pants and Chucks. I don’t know Mikaela. I don’t know if by “perfect” she means “marriageable.” I don’t know if MTV edited other qualities out of her monologue. But what one person wears is sometimes enough information for another person to decide to date or have sex with him or her, and that is horrifying.
Dr. Dae Sheridan
A few summers ago, I sat in the back of the first session of a secular human sexuality class at the University of South Florida. The class, which was part of the curriculum for my master’s degree in counseling, worried me, at first. I wondered whether how inexperienced I am would come up in conversation, and how my classmates would handle it if it did.
But the class, taught by sex therapist Dae Sheridan, turned out to be one of the best I have ever taken. For a few hours a week, we could toss taboos and talk about sex and related topics. The conversation with Dr. Dae, who became a mentor and friend, continued after I finished the class. When I asked for her insight regarding saving sex for marriage, she graciously agreed to let me share what she said with readers:
Arleen: Rumor has it “nobody saves sex for marriage.” Is that true?
Dr. Dae: I absolutely don’t think that no one does! There might not be as high of a percentage of people who are waiting until marriage, (but) I do see an increase in people who are waiting to be in loving, committed relationships. Sex is everywhere, to sell everything, so it’s perceived that everybody’s doing it, but not really everybody is doing it.
Arleen: Are there advantages to saving sex for marriage? (If so, what are they?)
Last week, I almost hated discussing sex with people who don’t practice chastity (If I’d gone there, I’d have a problem, as somebody whose forthcoming book is about it.).
My frustration with the conversation was rooted in an influx of critical feedback from people whose opinions don’t align with mine. But after five years of writing about sex for secular and Christian audiences, I could have seen the temptation to hate it coming. Disdain for this sort of discussion is birthed by unreasonable expectations, outlined in the three steps any chaste person ought to take if he or she wants to disdain it:
Step 1: Expect to be regarded respectfully by everyone involved in the conversation.
In direct responses to what I’ve written about saving sex for marriage, I’ve been referred to as unattractive, unintelligent, and — to quote a 60-year-old man who wrote a letter to a newspaper’s editor — “probably not a hot babe.” If you want to hate discussing sex with people who don’t practice chastity, expecting to be treated with respect is a good place to start. But if you would like liking the process of discussing sex with people who don’t practice chastity to be within the realm of possibility, let go of that expectation. You are of infinite value because you exist. Your dignity does not depend on a person’s opinion of you; your dignity is intrinsic. Accepting that you will be disrespected is not the same as denying that you are worthy of respect.You can control how often you remind yourself of your worth. You cannot control the people you encounter who don’t believe in it.
Step 2: Expect to correct every misconception of sex that comes up, as soon as it comes up.
Catholic Match Institute
June 29, 2014