When All That Abstinence Fetishism Goes Too Far…

Did you hear about this young evangelical couple in Topeka??

Jon and Darla Crocker, who dutifully abstained from sex during their 14-month courtship, have remained abstinent after marriage and plan to do so indefinitely.

“If it was holy before, it must be double-holy afterwards,” Darla says.

They have now completed 25 months of marriage without any sexual contact, going about their normal lives, jobs and social calendar with no hint of relational strain.

Read the whole thing.

In the end of the article, Jon is quoted as saying “For us, true love waits, and waits, and waits.”

Fortunately Jon and Darla are fictional. This story is from a satire website called Lark News. I found it funny, particularly the “true love waits, and waits, and waits” line. But then it reminded me of something very unfunny. There really are Christian young people raised staking so much of their identity in not having sex and equating sex so much with wrongness that even though they’ve all along also been told that the monogamous Christian marital sex they wait for marriage for is super-holy and face-meltingly, God-blessed awesome, they nonetheless struggle to have sex happily.

One of the most bravely honest people I’ve read talk about this was Libby Anne in her painful post “The Purity Culture and Sexual Dysfunction”. In that post she explains that out of her desperation to avoid those sinful lustful thoughts about anyone not your spouse (you know, the ones Jesus said you deserved damnation for and you’d be better off plucking out your eye than ever having) she willed herself to be asexual. And then even after marrying (as a virgin like she was supposed to) it took her months to even be able to fantasize sex, much less actively desire it. The extent her dysfunction got to the following point:

After a few months, I did start having sexual fantasies. But they were all fantasies of non-consensual sex. Why? Because on some intuitive level that made them safer, less taboo, and less sinful. After all, in these fantasies, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have sexual agency. I wasn’t choosing to have sex. I wasn’t active. It wasn’t that I wanted to fantasize about non-consensual sex; rather, as a result of the purity culture and my suppression of my sexuality, this was the only kind of sex I could fantasize about.

When my husband and I began having sex, we found that the only way I could orgasm was to pretend our sex was non-consensual. It was as though imagining and miming being coerced was the only way I could truly let go, detach from myself, and give myself permission to feel sexual pleasure. Being an active sexual agent, even in my thoughts, had been a no-no for so long that this suppression had become hard-wired into my brain. It literally took us years to figure out a way for me to have orgasms without pretending that our sex was non-consensual. I have nothing against people who simply enjoy this sort of sex play or this sort of fantasies, and I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s just that I really wanted to be able to experience orgasm without having to pretend sex was non-consensual.

Read much more about her journey. 

I am reminded also of Winston’s wife in 1984, in a society where young people are brainwashed by in the Junior Anti-Sex League to hate sex and only do it for procreative purposes, but also to feel duty bound to do it for those purposes:

As soon as he touched her she seemed to wince and stiffen. To embrace her was like embracing a jointed wooden image. And what was strange was that even when she was clasping him against her he had the feeling that she was simultaneously pushing him away with all her strength. The rigidity of her muscles managed to convey that impression. She would lie there with shut eyes, neither resisting nor co-operating, but submitting. It was extraordinarily embarrassing, and, after a while, horrible. But even then he could have borne living with her if it had been agreed that they should remain celibate. But curiously enough it was Katharine who refused this. They must, she said, produce a child if they could. So the performance continued to happen, once a week quite regularly, whenever it was not impossible. She used even to remind him of it in the morning, as something which had to be done that evening and which must not be forgotten. She had two names for it. One was ‘making a baby’, and the other was ‘our duty to the Party’: yes, she had actually used that phrase.

Orwell, George (1983-10-17). 1984 (pp. 155-156). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

For the love of humanity, teach the young people you can influence to think in balanced ways about sex and what it’s all about.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • asonge

    Isn’t this kind of thing supported in early Christian asceticism where converts would stop sleeping with their spouses? I seem to remember that in the NT somewhere.

    • Pofarmer

      Yep. They pretty much thought the world was ending, though, and there wasn’t any point in bringing children into it.

  • mikespeir

    What a shame. The world could use people with that kind of commitment, only to causes that actually serve some good.

  • Marta L.

    I’ve actually seen progressive evangelicals (yes, this is a thing) rail against this very problem. It’s one more reason purity culture is so toxic – because, aside from the problematic message that premarital sex is bad, most folks don’t feel like completely different people after their marriage from their pre-marriage selves. So there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in this area for people who bought into the purity culture.

    I have a good friend back in NC (who I won’t name since I don’t have her permission, but I do promise she’s a real person) who spent quite a bit of time in psychotherapy trying to make sense of just this issue. For her, it meant working out why she’d thought premarital sex was immoral – one part clarification of her views, and one part giving up some toxic theology she just didn’t believe anymore. This is an issue even forward-thinking theists, even some evangelicals I know, are working hard to change. It makes such a mess for so many people, and needlessly so.

  • Rebecca Mullen

    It makes me sad to know that this phenomenon is so wide-spread in the movement. I grew up christian (although I’m not anymore), and went to a christian college. My freshman year, my roommate swore to me that when she and her boyfriend got married they would only kiss on the wedding night. And another girl on the hall wouldn’t say the word “penis”… And in our (the previously public-schooled kids) good-natured attempts to get her to say it, we made her uncomfortable saying the word “happiness” too. Our school wasn’t even super-strict, and I can even say that now as a non-believer: The professors encouraged independent thought, we were taught evolution, and there was no dress code… But there was this part of the student body that was scared to death of their bodies and anything remotely sexual.

  • eamonknight

    Funny thing is, I recall more sex-positive attitudes from Evangelical marriage-prep books 30 years ago. Or maybe I managed to miss the underlying hard-line “purity” message. Or else it’s just that I never succeeded in turning off the fantasy life, and anyway my fiance and I believed that some level of make-out was acceptable.

  • Rosie

    Yes. And this is further complicated by the notions (not so far from the 1984 quote) that babies out of wedlock are always a burden, and within it they are always a blessing. But oddly enough, my (lack of) willingness to have a child wan’t changed by signing that paper. And it’s awfully hard to enjoy sex when you’ve been taught it could and should lead to children you know you don’t have the emotional wherewithal to care for, no matter what everyone else thinks is desirable in your life.

  • Joseph O Polanco

    The issue is balance. Normal, healthy sexual behavior in a marriage is no more maleficent than eating, sleeping, drinking water or breathing.

    An ancient proverb urges husbands to “rejoice with the wife of [their] youth. Let her own breasts intoxicate you at all times. With her love may you be in an ecstasy constantly.” -Proverbs 5:19 (Bracket mine.)

  • Rosie

    i. Follow, yes. But I disagree. I think that’s not a very accurate or useful way to interpret a person’s actions.

    ii. I was a believer for 20 years or more. I’m not going to go into details as to why I’m not anymore, but read some of Dan Fincke’s posts here about his deconversion and you’ll get a pretty good idea of why I don’t think God exists anymore.

    iii. I don’t think it is too liberal. Human connection is not a physical need, and lack thereof doesn’t directly induce physical death. But it is a psychological need, and if it isn’t met, psychosis inevitably follows.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      i. Why not?

      ii. Am I to understand that you are also gay?

      iii. Can you share some examples of this?