When telling kids to abstain from sex is irresponsible.

[callout]Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times published my third sex essay. Here are a few excerpts from it, followed by a link you can click to read it in its entirety. Like it? Share it with others. Grateful![/callout]

Over the summer, an Esquire post’s headline made a bold proclamation: ABSTINENCE CAUSES LASTING SEXUAL CONFUSION. I’m not worried. A lot of people think I should be.

I am a 29-year-old virgin, abstinent outside marriage because I, a practicing Catholic, practice the virtue of chastity. But there’s a reason the headline doesn’t have to cause concern in someone who hasn’t had sex:

It isn’t true. Continue reading “When telling kids to abstain from sex is irresponsible.”

What a sex therapist said about saving sex for marriage.

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?) Continue reading “What a sex therapist said about saving sex for marriage.”

Commentary on “My Virginity Mistake.”

In a column Sunday on Salon.com, Jessica Ciencin Henriquez – a fabulous writer, as far as I can tell – called her virginity at marriage a mistake. Wedding night sex was not what the church (nor the purity ring she wore) promised it would be.

Neither was her marriage.

Six months into it, Jessica wrote, “the idea of separating seemed more appealing than feigning headaches for the rest of my life.” She saved sex for marriage, “hoping it would ensure a successful marriage. Instead,” she wrote, “it led to my divorce.”

But did it?

I agree with what Jessica implies: the church camp where people preached premarital abstinence at her probably can be blamed in part for the sour start of what would be a short-term marriage.

But I disagree with what else she implies: That saving sex for marriage is a problem.

Excerpts of Jessica’s essay follow in italics, followed by my commentary:

But that ring! Silver and engraved with entwined hearts – everyone I knew was wearing one and I’d finally been given the opportunity to get my hands on it. And it wasn’t just the ring. This was a movement with T-shirts and hats and the added bonus of superiority over kids in school who couldn’t keep their clothes on, those sinners. 

This points to an important, unfortunate truth. Churches long have promoted premarital abstinence by talking about everything except for sex: the perils of unwed parenthood, the stigma associated with sexually transmitted infections, and how much “better” you are for not having sex than the kids who do. This is fear mongering, a lot of shame-based “why not,” and not a lot of genuine “why.” That is a problem.

The morning of my wedding day, I threw up. Everyone assumed that I was nervous about having sex. I wasn’t.

That everybody assumed Jessica barfed because she was anxious about having sex is indicative of a lie our culture tells us: that “the big moment” is what happens in bed on your wedding night, and not on the altar at your wedding. That is a problem.

When I look back on my wedding day, I remember a passionate kiss at the altar. But after rewatching video footage, I see it was little more than a peck on the corner of my mouth and a long hug. Two years of halting wandering hands as they grazed under blue jeans, and the second we have the permission from God, we hug. These are what red flags look like; my rearview mirror is lined with them.

When a church (or a school or a parent) says “wear this ring” and “sign this pledge” and then stops talking about relationships, girls and boys become women and men who basically only know not to have sex. Otherwise, their concepts of marriage and sex are shaped by their friends or media. That is a problem.

This was not lovemaking. There was no bond, no sanctity – this was not the amazing sex I was promised from the pulpit. This was disappointment three to four times a week.

To all people who preach “amazing sex” from pulpits: Please define amazing. The amazing part is not the sex. The amazing part is what’s implied by the fact that you saved it – your patience, your participation in the destruction of self absorption, your willingness to communicate outside (and eventually in) the bedroom. When you don’t define amazing, the assumption is “pleasurable sex will be intuitive and effortless, beginning with our wedding night” when, for most couples, that is so not true. That is a problem.

These problems plus premarital abstinence do not equal exemption from the consequences of these problems. They equal virgins at marriage who experience the consequences of these problems: not knowing the purpose of marriage or sex, more concern with preparedness for the wedding night than with preparedness for marriage, concepts of relationships and sex shaped by the media, and unrealistic expectations.

It is these consequences (among others, of course) that result in divorce, regardless of whether you’ve saved sex for marriage.

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Click here to read Jessica’s essay in full.

[Interview] Sex-free screenwriter, director, and author Monique Matthews.

MG_0021Late last year, I stood in front of a mic in a Tampa recording studio where, through headphones, I listened to Monique Matthews talk sex from a studio across the country.

She and I were two of three ladies invited as guests for a segment on NPR’s nationally syndicated Tell Me More to chat about our choices to save sex.

Matthews – screenwriter, director, and author of the book Sex Free: A (not so) Modern Approach to Dating and Relationships – is from New York City, lives in Los Angeles, and has worked in entertainment journalism and as managing editor for a national hip-hop publication.

Matthews, who hasn’t always practiced abstinence, is excited to celebrate her eighth year of celibacy this month. She recently graciously agreed to chat more with me about her choice to abstain from sex:

AS: Are you religious (and is your decision to practice abstinence at all rooted in your religious beliefs)?

MM: I am a practicing Christian who realizes that God’s commands are not to hurt, but to strengthen me, shield me from any harm, and enable me to enjoy life in abundance.

AS: How has life changed for you since making the decision to practice abstinence?

MM: Being sex free has impacted my life in many ways, big and small. One of the ways my sex free lifestyle has impacted me most is by strengthening my discernment skills. More specifically, eliminating sex allows me to see the depths of my attraction to someone. If it’s a largely sexual attraction, I know to let the potential interaction go. If it’s more than that, I do my best to be present and “show up” as the relationship unfolds.

Another way that being sex free has helped me is that it has increased my self confidence. I am valuable. Sharing my heart, time, and values with someone else is more than enough. If he doesn’t feel this way, then he’s missed out on a really great opportunity to know someone who’s fun, intelligent, resourceful, and willing to go to Hades and back for someone I love.

Finally, and most importantly, it has strengthened my walk with God. I can talk to Him about anything, including being horny. He knows his child. He knows how to strengthen me, so that I can put the flesh to rest, when it’s warring against me and wanting me to do nothing but feed it. I also know that I don’t have to hide anything from Him, for He cares for me. And, more and more each and every day, I see His faithfulness.

AS: When we were on NPR’s Tell Me More together, you talked about working in industries that aren’t conducive to saving sex, like screenwriting and entertainment journalism. Why exactly is it difficult to be “sex free” if a person is part of those industries?

MM: I am a screenwriter and director. Prior to that I was a magazine editor for a music magazine. As such I’ve worked primarily in areas where “sex sells.” Most popular music insists that having sex, often as much as possible, is not only fun and enjoyable, it is often a key to a woman’s equality. By this I mean that women are often considered equal to a man if they have casual sex without developing emotional attachments. Being risque is often associated with being sexy, as the listing of weekly Pop Top 20 charts will confirm. As a student in film school, many guest speakers would tell us the litmus test of deciding whether someone had “made it,” namely, “Women want to be like you and men want to f@#k you.” This does not mean that you have to sleep with every and anyone to be accepted; it suggests that one remember to use her sexuality as a tool, in addition to other talents, including writing, directing and producing.

AS: How do you manage to be “sex free” in your industry?

MM: Everything starts with a decision. Once you decide what you will and won’t do, you learn how to exist and thrive in any given setting.

AS: Regardless of the industries in which we work, we live in a culture in which being “sex-free” isn’t the norm. How can people who want to practice abstinence practice it regardless of what the world around them says?

MM: The first and most important reason is to decide what abstinence means for you. I believe sex, in its essence, is a fun, exciting and wonderful way to connect with another human being. If one chooses a sex-free lifestyle, the length of time is often based on that person. For some, particularly those guided by strong religious beliefs, it is until they are in a covenant relationship. For others who need healing from past relationships and/or may be in pursuit of a goal, it may be for a season until they can get a handle on whatever is preventing them from having fulfilling relationships and/or lives. It largely depends on the individual. Though I am a believer, I do not believe that the benefits of being sex free, which includes increased discernment, confidence, discipline, patience, and learning non-sexually based ways to show love, concern and consideration for a partner should be contained to the Christian community. Just as it’s widely agreed upon in society, whether one follows the Judeo-Christian tradition or not, that the Ten Commandments are a “good idea,” being sex free can work for anyone, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.

AS: Is there anything I didn’t ask about, that you’d like to add about sex, abstinence, or relationships?

MM: One’s decision to become sex free, for whatever length of time one decides, is not easy, but it is worth it. Understand that tough days and nights will come. Do not run away from them nor deny them. Instead, allow them to strengthen you. As Romans 5: 3 – 4 encourages, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation (NLT).”

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Sex Free: A (no so) Modern Approach to Dating and Relationhips is available in paperback for $9.99 and as a digital download for $5.99 at Amazon.com. Special autographed paperbacks are available for $9.99 at sexfreebook.com.

Click here to like Matthews’s book on Facebook.

Click here to follow Matthews on Twitter.

Click here to listen to Matthews, Lisa Marziali, and me on NPR’s Tell Me More.

Why “The Bachelor” Sean Lowe’s marriage isn’t doomed.

The blogosphere has been abuzz about all the sex The Bachelor isn’t having.

This started when America discovered that Sean Lowe, this season’s star of ABC’s The Bachelor, is a “born again virgin” – somebody who is saving sex from now on for marriage. And Lowe’s marriage, according to blogger Mary Fischer, is doomed because of it.

His nonmarital abstinence is “pretty much a major buzz kill,” she wrote. Not sleeping with the people you date is a big risk, she implied, and Lowe should have premarital sex for the sake of his marriage.

“If two people don’t have good sexual chemistry and aren’t at all compatible between the sheets, then odds are good there will be some other aspect of their lives where they don’t mesh, which will lead to a whole host of problems that potentially could have been avoided if only they’d done the deed beforehand,” Fischer wrote. “Seriously, how bad would it suck to finally give in to temptation on your wedding night only to find that your spouse doesn’t exactly know how to (ahem) press your buttons? Talk about ruining the big moment entirely.”

To which I write this:

  • Odds are good that characteristics of a successful relationship far more fundamental than “good sex” are missing if a couple is unwilling to work for compatibility between the sheets if compatibility between the sheets isn’t intuitive.
  • Working for compatibility requires patience. Chastity, “a decision to die to self and to selflessly love (or to die trying),” is great practice.
  • How bad would it suck if wedding night sex was about “giving in to temptation?”
  • That your brand new spouse doesn’t know how to “press your buttons” isn’t a problem if you and he or she are willing to communicate, to learn, and to practice.
  • The big moment isn’t what happens in bed on your wedding night. It’s what happens on the altar at your wedding.
And if Lowe agrees, his marriage isn’t doomed because of it.

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Click here to read what Fischer wrote about Sean Lowe’s doomed marriage.