How to hate discussing sex with people who don’t practice chastity.

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.

Recently, I busted sex myths in a column I wrote for the Chastity Project, a site run by chastity author and speaker Jason Evert, who shared a link to the column in a post on his Facebook page. There, in comments on the post, misconceptions abounded: that you can lust and love at the same time, somebody wrote; that humans are just animals, wrote another; that it’s very important to know you enjoy intercourse with a partner before you marry him or her, said somebody else. But the link to the column got clicked 45,269 times in its first three days on Jason’s Facebook page — that’s a minimum of 45,269 potential misconceptions. If I wanted to hate discussing sex with people who don’t practice chastity, I would have held myself responsible for correcting all of their misconceptions immediately. But it is humanly impossible to clarify what you say for every person who hears it.

Step 3: Expect the people who don’t practice chastity to define sex the same way you do.

The greatest single cause of high blood pressure and sleep deprivation among people who practice chastity is probably this step. If you want to hate discussing sex with people who don’t share your sentiments, take it. But if you’d prefer for an inter-ideological discussion of sex to be productive, accept this: There are multiple kinds of sex. When chaste people say “sex,” we mean “sacred, physical, pleasurable sign of the the commitment spouses made to each other on the altar where they were married, ultimately designed to bond them and to make babies.” When people who don’t practice chastity say “sex,” they probably mean “the horizontal polka.”

Sex, for people who don’t practice chastity — according to people who don’t practice chastity* — is primarily supposed to satisfy an urge, or to be a fun, recreational activity (that can double, when desired, as a path to intimacy), or to help a person decide if marrying someone is smart. Sex, then, is not the same for people who practice chastity as it is for people who don’t. There is sex the sacred sign, and there is sex the horizontal polka. When we start a discussion about sex without acknowledging that, a discussion is destined for doom.

To a person who doesn’t believe sex is a sacred sign, “save sex for marriage” sounds like “wait until after you’ve married a guy or girl to get close to him or her” or “don’t have fun with him or her until after the wedding” or “you have to be married to someone to engage in an activity you should use to help you decide if you want to marry him or her” — notions which, even in the opinions of chaste people, are asinine. Unless we’re to hate discussing this with each other, it’s time to acknowledge that most of us can agree on this: there is no compelling reason to save the horizontal polka for marriage.

But the existence of “sex the sign” — sex as we who are chaste define it — means there is also no compelling reason to participate in the horizontal polka at all. Sex the sign obviates sex the horizontal polka. The latter pales in comparison to the former. The latter is a distortion of the former. But the latter is not the same as the former. People who practice chastity aren’t waiting until marriage to participate in the horizontal polka. People who commit to practicing chastity commit not to participating in the horizontal polka ever (or ever again). When we don’t preface a sex conversation with that, we act like what we disagree on is when to have “sex the sign.” We don’t. What we actually disagree on is whether sex is a sacred sign at all.

We who practice chastity know that it is.

The people who don’t think it is don’t need us to hate discussing it. They need us to live what we believe, without condemning them if they don’t. They don’t need us to insult them because we’re angry; they need us to tell them what we mean when we say “sex.” They don’t need us to tell them what to do; they need us to show them how it’s done.

* in interviews and surveys I’ve conducted with them


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ngozi Genny Nwosisi

    Gosh, God bless you! And your inspiration! Thank you – yet another eloquent piece.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Thank you! 🙂

  • Overall, I like your post. I’ve also had many conversations about sex and virginity, which has involved some pretty harsh judgment, criticism, and insults from both Christians and people-engaging-in-casual-sex. I agree with your first two points that you have to be prepared for uncivil conversation and for misconceptions, not all of which you can clear up.

    That said, I strongly disagree with your assertion that sex is either/or for people who practice chastity and those who don’t. You basically erased my existence and personal set of values, along with those of quite a few other people, based on the conversations I’ve had over the last three years. Ideas and beliefs about sex are more complex than “spiritual and meant for children” OR “a casual f**k,” which is basically how you described it. For example, non-Catholic Christians who are saving sex for marriage–some even save their first kiss for marriage–usually don’t agree that sex must always be open to procreation, and thus they tend to use contraception.

    According to my atheist husband, there are plenty of compelling reasons to save sex for marriage, reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

    You say that you’re quoting people from surveys and interviews, but have you actually surveyed or interviewed people who were/will be virgins on their wedding nights, who are NOT Catholic?

    Arleen, you’re an excellent writer, and I love your blog. Even though we have different perspectives on sex and virginity, I have always found your writing to be inclusive. I am disappointed that this article fell very short of your usual standards.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Note that at the start of the third section of this post, I said there are multiple kinds of sex, not two (though I have in previous posts referred to there being “two”… the Catholic kind and the not Catholic kind [under which I’m sure there are countless varieties]). I only described two kinds in detail in this post — the decidedly Catholic version of sex and “the horizontal polka” — because it’s generally been the people who are into the horizontal polka with whom conversations about this have devolved into arguments.
      The surveys and interviews I reference in this post are with people who are not proponents of saving sex for marriage (most of whom are single and sexually active, regardless of their religious beliefs). I haven’t conducted surveys yet with people whose decisions to save sex are rooted in anything other than Christianity (but I have spoken with Catholics and Christian non-Catholics about that).
      I appreciate that you read my posts faithfully. Sorry to have disappointed you with this one.

  • Pingback: Your dignity is not conditional « A Heapin' Plate of Conservative Politics & Religion()

  • John Morgan

    Excellent Arleen. “Sex, then, is not the same for people who practice chastity as it is for people who don’t. ” I completely agree and would even say that sex outside the bonds of marriage has no value whatsoever. And, as you mentioned, the entire arguement is over something more than timing. Hence, the phrase “premarital sex” is actually a misnomer because you can’t put it in another time frame and make it right.