Rachel Held Evans: Missing the Mark on Sexual Ethics

Rachel Held Evans has been a big critic of what I call the “purity culture”—and I think that’s great!—but today she’s written a post on why people should still wait for marriage to have sex.

The problem with the evangelical purity culture, as I see it, isn’t that it teaches saving sex for marriage, but that it equates virginity with sexual wholeness and therefore as something that can be lost or given or taken away in a single moment. 

Perhaps instead of virginity…or even purity (which carries something of an either/or connotation, I think)…we ought to talk about the path of holiness.  Holiness, to me, means committing every area of my life— from sex, to food, to time, to work—to the lordship of Jesus. It means asking how I might love God and love my neighbors in those areas so that the Spirit can grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in the sacred soil of everyday life.

I agree with Rachel that the obsession with virginity is a huge problem, and I appreciate the focus on one’s whole life rather than on individual acts, but I have to say, what she’s saying here really isn’t that different from the purity culture rhetoric I got growing up. It was all about committing every area of your life—including your food, time, and work in addition to sex—to God. And my parents never got hung up in the specific act either, but rather argued that all of our sexuality ought to be saved for marriage.

The thing is, Rachel is still saying that sex should be saved for marriage, just like I was taught growing up. And so I have to ask—why? Why should sex be saved for marriage? I don’t personally see any conflict between premarital sex and things Rachel describes above—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and loving one’s neighbors. Rachel’s piece is quite long and I’m going to quote from it selectively, but nowhere in it is she really clear about why sex should be saved for marriage. And maybe that’s because she is still in process and still figuring that out, but for someone still in process she definitely seems to have firmly latched onto the idea that, whatever the exact reason, sex should be saved for marriage.

If Rachel determines that sex before marriage is okay, evangelicals will stop listening to her. Whether this guides what she writes here I don’t know, but the problem progressive Christians often have with this issue has been addressed in the past by blogger Sarah Moon. In this post, Rachel declares that, as a part of the “path of holiness,” Christians should not have premarital sex, but she can’t invoke the reasons evangelicals usually invoke, because those things are shame-based. She could just say “because God says so,” and maybe that’s really what she’s doing, but that’s also not usually her style.

Early on in her post, Rachel quotes approvingly from a blogger she admires:

Why wait? Um. Because you need to learn some freaking self-control. That’s why.

No kidding, the person who is a slave to their sexual desires will have a difficult row to hoe…But the man or woman who has a sense of mastery over their own sexual appetite will be far less likely to fall into the easy traps of addiction and infidelity that plague marriages today. I don’t mean to imply that postponing sex guarantees fidelity – it certainly doesn’t. And I don’t think this is a fail safe for a long and happy marriage, but I think delaying sex is a pretty solid beginning.

So, interesting story. I knew a married couple growing up whose relationship had been forever damaged as a result of their having premarital sex. How did this happen? Quite simply, they both felt that their impulsive decision to have premarital sex even though, as evangelical Christians, they believed sex should be saved for marriage demonstrated a lack of self control, and because of that moment neither of them could truly trust the other. That’s right, viewing sex as a “self control” issue caused them long term marital problems. In their case, the approach to sexuality recommended here didn’t give them a “pretty solid beginning” at all. It rather gave them the opposite.

But what’s really mindboggling here is that this argument is tapping into just what it claims to reject. The author is suggesting that people who have self control will wait for marriage and those who don’t have self control will have premarital sex. Can she not already hear the women asking their fiances with dismay, “why couldn’t you have had self control and waited for me?” Or the men asking their girlfriends, “if you had so little control over your sexual desires before you met me, how do I know you’ll be faithful to me?” Because I can. In fact, the self control argument is one I grew up hearing—it’s one that is threaded through purity culture.

And what is this about how you either wait until marriage or you have no self control—no “sense of mastery” over your own “sexual appetite”? That’s ridiculous. You can have self control, and control of your sexual desire, without waiting until marriage for sex. Whatever happened to teaching young people to respect their partners, value consent, and make informed decisions? While I delayed sexual activity for a long, long time because of purity teachings, I didn’t quite wait for marriage. And you know what? I’m not some sort of sexual monster who can’t control my sexual urges. And it’s not just Rachel’s quote from this blogger that demonstrates this lack of understanding, it’s Rachel herself:

But I want folks to know that abandoning the painful and destructive narrative that a single sexual encounter can “ruin” a person or make her unworthy of love doesn’t mean swinging to the opposite extreme to endorse an anything-goes sexual ethic. 

Rachel is setting up a dichotomy here, arguing that on the one extreme is shame-based virginity obsession and on the other extreme is “anything goes.” But does Rachel really think that the only alternative to Christian sexual ethics that the world has to offer is “an anything-goes sexual ethic”? What about a sexual ethic built on consent and respect for oneself and one’s partner? Consensual sexual ethics by definition involve self control—but self control that is dictated by one’s respect for his or her partner(s), not by . . . the belief that sex before marriage demonstrates a lack of self control? Consensual sexual ethics is also by definition not “anything-goes”—and it is not bereft of self control, either. By painting this dichotomy, Rachel is throwing consensual sexual ethics under the bus in favor of a God-mandated prohibition of premarital sex, which is a really odd thing for someone who finds evangelicalism’s obsession with virginity so appalling.

And then there’s this:

I’ve been reading the monastics recently, and it strikes me that while much of modern evangelicalism echoes their teachings on self-control and self-denial when it comes to sexuality, we tend to gloss over a lot what this great cloud of monastic witnesses has to say about self-control and self-denial in other areas of life—like materialism, food, relationships, and hospitality. Ours is indeed a consumeristic culture, the kind that too often turns people into commodities, and I believe Christians can speak into that culture in a unique, life-giving way—not only as it concerns sex-on-demand, but also as it concerns food-on-demand, celebrity-on-demand, stuff-on-demand, cheap-goods-on-demand, pornography-on-demand, entertainment-on-demand, comfort-on-demand, distraction-on-demand, information-on-demand, power-on-demand, energy-on-demand, and all those habits that tend to thrive at the expense of the dignity and value of our fellow human beings or our planet.  

Is Rachel saying we should exercise self control because our consumeristic culture thrives “at the expense of the dignity and value of our fellow human beings or our planet”? If so, I agree, but I’m profoundly confused about what this has to do with sex. Consensual, safe sex does not operate at anyone’s expense or cause anyone harm. If she’s saying we should exercise self control just because . . . something . . . I’m not sure I agree.

I’m not saying we should never practice self-control or self-denial, but I generally think we should have an actual reason for practicing these things. I don’t eat chocolate cake with every meal because I know it’s not healthy and I like my current weight, not because I think that depriving myself of something I want is in and of itself a good thing. I don’t buy the latest electronic devise the moment it comes out because I just want to deprive myself but rather because I have a limited budget and have to prioritize. I consider others even when it means not getting something I want because I’d like to hope that if I’m a good relative or a good friend they’ll be good relatives or good friends in return—and because I believe it’s the right thing to do—not because I think not getting something I want is something good in and of itself.

Perhaps Rachel simply hasn’t reached a point of complete clarity on this subject yet, but her post left me with more questions than it answered. Why would a “path of holiness” require not having sex? I don’t think it’s possible to answer that question can be answered without invoking at least some of the shame-based purity teachings Rachel so adamantly rejects. And so Rachel’s trying to get around that by invoking self control and even monasticism. But why tie self control to premarital sex? If self control is good before marriage, wouldn’t it be good after marriage too? And why not simply develop a sexual ethic that involves consent and respecting your partner(s) both before marriage and after marriage? Finally, Rachel doesn’t present an argument for why avoiding premarital sex in and of itself betters society, others, or the individual, so within this framework how does avoiding sex before marriage amount to anything more than deprivation for deprivation’s sake? Perhaps Rachel will work on answering these questions in a future post, but until then, what she’s saying still sounds too close to the purity teachings I heard growing up for comfort.

***Addendum***

I wanted to add a quick exchange from the comments that I thought might further elucidate my position here, specifically regarding Rachel’s focus on holiness. 

Tyler Francke

I read both of these articles and I think you make some excellent points, but I would respectfully suggest that I’m not sure that you fully responded to RHE’s underlying point on holiness. I think holiness means attaining the perfection of God, and it’s a good thing because I believe it was the way we were meant to live, in constant communion with our maker. And I think the path does involve some self-denial along the way, because our innate inclinations are often inherently self-focused and not God- or other-focused.

You cite some ways you practice self-denial already (eating healthfully, being a good steward of your money, etc.), and I agree those are very good things. But, with respect, you are not perfect, and neither am I. I don’t in any way believe our pursuit of holiness should be shame-based, but I also don’t think it should ever be perceived (in this life) to have ended.

That being said, if you are — out of devotion to the lord and a personal decision to show gratitude to him — honestly seeking his holiness, and believe a committed, consensual and respectful relationship with another person does not impede that, I say more power to you.

My Response:

While I grew up in an evangelical church, I’m an atheist today, but I’ll answer this anyway. The problem, as I see it, is that premarital sex gets packaged differently. It seems to me that holiness ought to be about showing others love and respect and balancing our own needs and desires with the needs and desires of others. So what I don’t understand is how a prohibition of premarital sex gets mixed up in this. There is nothing about premarital sex that is disrespectful to the individual, or unloving, but there is lots about coerced sex, whether it’s rape or simple manipulation, that is unloving and disrespectful. So why not focus on building a consent-based sexual ethics that focuses on showing each other love and respect, whether within marriage or outside of marriage? Why instead turn it into a “have self control and abstain before marriage” and then “you’re married now you get sex” dichotomy? I don’t see anything about that dichotomy that represents either holiness or working toward perfection or coming closer to God, but I see lots about a consent-based, respect-based sexual ethic that does represent those things. I would love to see Rachel take the conversation in that direction.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Amethyst Marie

    Sarah Moon’s post, I think, gives us a possible answer to why Rachel Held Evans has to remind her readers that she does still believe in abstinence until marriage because reasons. She’d lose her position as The Evangelical-Friendly Progressive pretty fast if she publicly embraced an ethic like the one you and Sarah Moon describe. Her influence with the evangelical community might very well be over. See also Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network. He’s as controversial as Evans in evangelical circles, but like her, he presents a “heretical” belief in a way that’s as palatable as possible for an evangelical audience. Part of his message is that gay Christians can wait until marriage for sex just like straight Christians, and that not all gays are sex-obsessed ravers having orgies every night. Because obviously those are the only two options.

    • http://concerningpurity.blogspot.com/ Lynn Grey

      I was thinking about that, too. Even though it frustrates me that most of the Christian critics of shame-based purity teachings don’t take it to the next step of questioning the morality of waiting for marriage, I realize that to do so would mean most Evangelicals would disregard their entire message. Rachel and others like her would be seen as an enemy on the other side of the line, and the critique of shame-based teachings viewed as a slippery slope to immorality.

      I think she’s in a difficult position, and probably doesn’t feel completely free to think outside a particular box, even if it’s bigger than the box most Evangelicals think inside.

    • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

      Part of his message is that gay Christians can wait until marriage for sex just like straight Christians, and that not all gays are sex-obsessed ravers having orgies every night. Because obviously those are the only two options.

      Unfortunately, an unintentional (at least I hope it’s unintentional) implication in that message is that, hey if there are gay people who are sex-obsessed ravers having orgies every night, then it’s a-okay to continue mistreating those gay people.

      The moment, you raise the “I’m not like those people” defense, you’ve effectively thrown “those people” under the bus.

  • Joykins

    Of course “because God said so” is a perfectly adequate reason for a Christian, if you can determine that God actually did say so.

    • jmb

      Well, but then some irreverent jerk asks “But WHY does God say so?” and it gets awkward if all you can say is “I dunno” or “Yeah, I guess you’re right, God’s an irrational sex-obsessed jerk,” and so you have the invention of Apologetics.

      • Alice

        Same thing with opposing GLBT people and sex. I’ve heard all the rationalizations in the book, but if you cut through all the crap, it always comes down to “Because God said so, end of story.”

      • “Rebecca”

        I had a fun conversation with my Christian sister about why gay sex is wrong. “Because it’s non-procreative” “Well my husband and I can’t have kids, is our relationship wrong?” “But it’s not your choice to not have kids” “Gay people don’t choose that either” *nervous laugh, muttering, end of discussion*

      • Miss_Beara

        And of course their god feels the exact way as they do. Shocking!

      • Joykins

        It’s always interesting to talk to the people who don’t find that “God feels the exact way they do” on this topic or another (I’m one of those).

      • LadyCricket

        I used to be a very conservative and religious girl. Used to be.

        When I first asked my mother what “gay marriage” was (because it was in a joke in Reader’s Digest) she got a very serious expression on her face and said, “It’s when a man tries to marry a man. And it’s a terrible, TERRIBLE thing.”

        I was still faithful throughout my adolescence. I listened to the church and my family when they said homosexuality was wrong. So when I realized that there was a controversy about it, I wanted to defend my side. I went looking for arguments against marriage equality, but even then, I was bothered by the fact that there were no arguments against it that didn’t boil down to “God said so” or “buttsex is icky”.

        My religion prohibited consumption of alcohol. You can defend that on the grounds that alcohol is an addictive and harmful substance and most people are better off without it. My religion prohibited killing people. You can defend that on the grounds that it’s wrong to end an innocent person’s life because all people have a certain right to life. My religion prohibited stealing. You can defend that on the grounds that people have a right to property, and that stealing from people hurts their prosperity.

        My religion prohibited gay marriage… the best argument I ever heard for that was that the inherently non-procreative nature of gay sex was disrespectful to the sacred power we have to create life. Except that my religion never tried to prohibit marrying someone you know to be infertile, and my parents have said the church is fine with a married couple making their own decisions when it comes to birth control. And, that argument sounds like a much fancier way of saying “God said so”.

        Maybe it sounds disloyal or something, but eventually I switched sides when I realized all the good arguments were on the other side.

      • The_L1985

        My parents just told us that “gay” was when men wanted to marry other men, and women wanted to marry other women. They expected us to “naturally” find that revolting in and of itself.

        …That didn’t exactly work on me.

      • Mr. Pantaloons

        It’s at about that point that the Euthyphro dilemma pops in and obviates the need for God altogether. Ta-daaa! Instant agnostic existential crisis, just add irrelevance.

      • Joykins

        If you ask me, trying to explain why you follow some uniquely religious rule or belief other than God Said So is falling into the same trap the “creationists” fall into–making up a lot of BS when the real reason you believe or do it is because you believe God Said So. Now when you read the actual Levitical laws, a much uglier picture emerges of the patriarchal attitude where female virgins are considered valuable marriage material for all the standard reasons; but most Christians draw from Paul, who says to avoid sexual immorality (along with a list of religious reasons — see I Cor. 6) without actually bothering to define sexual immorality for people 2000 years in the future. Luckily for English speakers, the translators substituted “fornication” for “sexual immorality” long enough and that gives people their Grand Conclusion.

      • Ryan

        It is helpful to also realize that the Bible was written to people thousands of years ago, before birth control. For people then, sex = children. This adds a different dimension to the conversation about consensual partners. Starting with a belief that God thought sex was best saved for marriage in that context and culture is a different conversation than the one being held on this blog. As a Christian, I think there are good reasons for God to be in favor of waiting until marriage to have sex, even in our context today.

        The basis of the viewpoint that sex outside of marriage is okay comes down to this: “Consensual, safe sex does not operate at anyone’s expense or
        cause anyone harm.” -taken from the article.

        If this statement is true then I can understand what the author of this article is arguing for. However, I don’t think this truth claim is true, and I doubt Rachel Held Evans believes it is true. This is really where the argument lays.

        There are a lot of underlying assumptions to that claim. The most obvious is that no child will result from this sex act. If a child results, then there is a lot of cost involved for the mother and child (the father has more freedom to opt out). Birth control is not always 100% effective. Abortion comes with costs (the degree of the costs is debatable, but at the least it causes significant emotional distress for the mother).

        Another assumption is that there is no difference in a consensual relationship between unmarried and married people. In our society this seems to be unfortunately becoming true, but doesn’t have to be. Marriage can actually be a real lasting and loving commitment to the partner in a way that simple words or promises or consentuality does not achieve. A devaluing of what marriage can be is necessary for the claim above.

        Birth control technology within the last 50 years has made “consensual, safe sex” less costly for partners than it used to be. However, it is a glorified fantasy to think that there is no risk and no cost involved to consensual sexual partners.

      • tsara

        “Another assumption is that there is no difference in a consensual relationship between unmarried and married people. In our society this seems to be unfortunately becoming true…”
        Why on Earth would you call that ‘unfortunate’?

      • Joykins

        To get to “unfortunately” one would assume that the only consenting partner in the marriage is the one that is engaging in extramarital sex? Or no? IME the people who have truly open marriages are few and far betweenl.

      • tsara

        I got the impression that Ryan was saying that there was no difference anymore between a consensual relationship in which the people are married and a consensual relationship in which the people are unmarried.
        The sentence is, however, quite grammatically unclear. I focused on the ‘consensual relationship’; a relationship is not truly consensual unless everyone is as fully informed as possible about what, exactly, they are consenting to.

      • Joykins

        The idea that consensual applies to the parties not actually having sex is new to me, but I like it.

      • tsara

        It isn’t even that, though. Cheating requires that there be an explicit or very clear implicit agreement that there are certain boundaries on what the parties in the relationship can do with other people in order for everyone to continue consenting to that relationship. If I’ve agreed to be in a monogamous relationship with someone, and they have sex with someone else, I’m now in a non-monogamous relationship. If I don’t know about the boundary violation, I haven’t been given the opportunity to consent or refuse to be in a non-monogamous relationship before being in one.

      • tsara

        Basically, sexual consent is not the only kind of consent a fully consensual relationship requires, and romantic/sexual relationships are generally understood to be conditional on the monogamy of both individuals involved in them.

      • Ryan

        I see how the wording there is confusing. I tried to say something without getting into a long explanation of it, but it ended up communicating nothing instead.

        I was trying to convey that marriage is something more than just a consensual relationship between two people. It is a public commitment within the context of a community of people, and a commitment before God. These aspects of marriage make it a different type of commitment than just mutual consent between two people.

        The unfortunate part refers to the loss of a sense that this is a serious commitment made within the context of a community. The community is increasing absent from the process of support and accountability in keeping the vows made between the people getting married. Why are there other people there attending and witnessing a marriage? Are they just there to say, “way to go, here is a present;” or are they there as witnesses to these vows to help support the couple (and subsequent children, if any) and keep them accountable to their vows. Unfortunately, I feel that this aspect of marriage seems to be declining (due to various factors). As autonomous as we like to think we are, we still need the help of others; and as independent as we like to be, we still need to help others.

        I also find it unfortunate that marriage is increasingly losing the sense that this is a commitment made before God (but this will not make sense to a non-religious person). I find a commitment to God to be very helpful.

      • Joykins

        I think the public commitment as part of a community aspect is valid whether or not you believe in God, FWIW.

      • Ryan

        I would agree.

        I’m just saying that for me, my Christian worldview encourages me to think communally and how we can help support and love others, especially the vulnerable in our society. You don’t have to be Christian to believe that, but I believe that because I am Christian.

      • The_L1985

        I do wish that more Christians did that. Then we wouldn’t have “Christians” arguing that feeding the poor is only right when charities do it, and never when the government (i.e. society) does it.

      • The_L1985

        I do not believe that premarital sex is in any way sinful at all.

        However, that doesn’t mean that I somehow don’t believe that marriage is important in and of itself. A wedding ceremony is a way of publicly declaring one’s commitment to one’s partner in a legally-binding way. It is a celebration of togetherness and a contract to continue that togetherness for life (divorce is a way of rendering that contract void, but we’re ignoring that for now). You don’t have to use it as the dividing line between “moral sex/babies” and “immoral sex/babies” in order to see marriage as important.

      • Ryan

        I assume that by “premarital sex” you are referring to respectful consensual relationships, because there are clearly forms of premarital sex that everyone would agree are dangerous and harmful. Your use of “in any way” is misleading. This again kind of comes back to the issue of defining what is a healthy sexual relationship. Is consensual relationships our best option, or could there be something better.

        Your use of the word sin is also ambiguous. Different people have different definitions for what sin means. The word comes from an ancient archery term that literally means: to miss the mark.

        Before we could really engage in a discussion about your comments it would probably be helpful for me to have a better understanding of what you mean by “premarital sex” and “sin.”

        I agree that attitudes and labeling such as “immoral sex/babies” can be unhealthy. However, I think encouraging people to shoot higher than “consensual sexual relationships” is valuable.

      • The_L1985

        OK, let me clarify.

        I am using the word “sin” in the same way that it was used during my Christian upbringing, to refer to anything that is morally wrong.

        “Premarital sex” refers to any sex act performed while the people involved are unmarried, including (but not limited to) vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex, handjobs, use of sex toys on each other, and mutual masturbation.

        What I am saying is that I do not believe that being unmarried is enough to automatically render any form of sexual intercourse morally wrong. Married people can have immoral sex (including with each other–marital rape exists). Unmarried people can have immoral sex. But I believe it is also possible for a sex act between two unmarried persons to be totally 100% okay from a moral perspective. I believe that such acts are morally-neutral, like eating an orange or watching a sporting event.

        Just as we agree that eating ice cream once in a while is ok, but not eating ice cream with every meal, I’d like to think that we both agree that sexual morality depends on context. If one person is using sex to control another, that’s unhealthy and immoral whether they are married to each other or not. If one person is raping or sexually assaulting another, that’s also unhealthy and immoral whether they are married to each other or not.

      • Ryan

        Thanks for clarifying. I agree with a lot of what you are saying.

        To clarify my comment about there being forms of “premarital sex” that we would all agree are harmful or “sinful:” I was referring to obvious examples such as rape and unloving or disrespectful forms of premarital sex. Those are premarital and clearly sinful, regardless of the particular way the sex acts are performed.

        I agree with what you are saying about marriage not being a 100% protection from sinful sex acts. As you mentioned, there are examples of unhealthy sexual behavior between married people as well.

        It would be helpful for me to understand what standard you are using for determining if a sex act is sinful or not. Could you elaborate for me?

        At least, I would say that the public witness of vows to love and respect one another, and to remain faithful to one another that occur in marriage would hopefully help improve the chances that the partners will not act sinfully towards one another through sex.

        A difference I would see between premarital and marital would be the expectation that the couple will be committed to each other for life in marital. This could happen in premarital as well, but is less likely.

      • Anat

        Well, I really don’t expect married people to automatically be committed to each other for life. For an extended period – rather likely. But for life is beyond the horizon of what the typical healthy twentysomething or even thirtysomething really grasps. They may intend to stay together for life, but it is hard for people to really understand how much they are going to change over time.

        I’m not L1985, I wouldn’t use the term ‘sin’ at all, so as not to confuse with religious concepts, but for an act to be immoral it must at least be such an act that the reasonable person would recognize as likely to cause harm to someone who did not agree to accept such a consequence.

      • The_L1985

        I only used the word “sin” because I was responding to a post that used the word. My moral compass does not involve the word “sin.”

        That said, when someone says “You’re choosing sin by doing XYZ!” and you don’t believe XYZ is wrong, the response “I don’t agree with you that XYZ is a sin” is totally appropriate.

      • The_L1985

        My standard is the two R’s: respect and responsibility.

        Respect: everyone involved must consent, married people must respect their wedding vows, you must not use imbalance of power to coerce people into sex (I consider this to automatically rule out pedophilia), you must not use sex as a way to manipulate people or treat them like objects; you must not engage in any kinks that your partner doesn’t like.

        Responsibility: understand all possible results, good and bad, from sex (emotional attachment, pregnancy, STDs, deepening of commitment); use birth control if you want to have sex but don’t want babies right now; protect yourself and your partner from STDs if you are single; be willing to do whatever is necessary if something unanticipated happens (for example, an unexpected pregnancy requires those involved to either raise the child, put it up for adoption, or have an abortion, and you can’t just do nothing)

      • Ryan

        Thanks for sharing.

      • The_L1985

        No problem. ^^ I’m happy to share my perspectives whenever asked, especially since, as you pointed out, when we unpack a single word there can be lots of layers of meaning inside it.

      • Ella Warnock

        Well, actually, my exit from christianity made me realize that my relationship with my husband has absolutely nothing to do with that legal document and ceremony we had 26 years ago. If I had been the same person back then that I am now, I doubt we would have married, but we would still be together. We both would have been faithful and committed whether or not the state or society recognized our bond.

      • Anat

        Marriage can be all those wonderful things, but isn’t necessarily so. And non-married relationships can be. Also, sex outside of long-term relationships can be wonderful and meaningful in all sorts of ways. People are different, they think differently, act differently, react differently, etc. Let’s not over-generalize.

        (Also, plenty of women don’t agonize over abortions. For them the worst part of unintended pregnancy that gets resolved by abortion is the stress over not knowing if they are pregnant, followed – once they find out – by stressing over getting the abortion done already – ie the logistics of it, and in some places the legalities of it.)

      • stacey

        I find the idea that once your married, that your worries about unplanned pregnancy are non existant, to be pretty common amongst the devout. I would *really* love to know just how marriage makes unplanned pregnancy a non issue?

        Do you think that married people do not have BC failures or abortions? Or that there is a special solution to the problems that come with unplanned pregnancies, that is just for married people?

        Just because you are a married couple does NOT mean that you want to, or can, support, children. This is especially true if you have health issues, already have kids, or other serious responsibilities, like care of an infirm relative. The flip side is that being unmarried does not mean that a unplanned pregnancy will be unwanted, or that the resulting baby won’t have a loving home.

        My partner and I have been together for 10 years, and have 2 small kids (a 1yr old DD & 2 yr old DS). Having a third baby right now would be a serious hardship, and isn’t a good idea health wise either. I would really love a third child, as would DH, so its not an issue of willingness.

        My marital status does not change this one bit- having a ring (or not) does not give us more money or the ability to afford an apartment with more space, and it sure doesn’t fix the health issues that could result in disability due to pregnancy, or a preemie born before viability. I wish it did fix those things, alas, it does not.

      • Ryan

        I’m not negating the fact that an unplanned pregnancy can be a hardship in marriage as well, but which is more difficult: a woman having an unplanned pregnancy without the legal and public promise from her partner that
        he will help raise and support the child, or living with the reality or fear that she will be going it alone? I applaud the fact that you and your partner have been committed together for 10 years and both contribute to raising your children (sounds a lot like a marriage without the ceremony and legal implications). A marriage commitment is a public statement with legal implications and public witnesses that are intended to help people carry through with such a commitment. Unfortunately, I know many single unmarried moms who were left on their own because their partner wasn’t willing to commit or stay committed. Yes, I also know single moms who are divorced, but marriage makes it more difficult for a partner to back out on his/her commitment. It is a safeguard (especially when taken seriously). It places the private commitment of two people into the realm of public
        accountability and support (and if done religiously, also accountability and support from God).

        Also, from within a Christian viewpoint, a person and/or family does not have to go it alone. There is support and assistance from within the community of the church to help with the difficulties of raising children (at least when the church is functioning as it is supposed to). This would be true for a single mom left on her own or a married couple with an unplanned pregnancy; or for orphans, widows, the poor and those who are vulnerable. Having a ring may not help you afford an apartment with more space, but being in a community of people who could help financially could. Having a ring might not prevent pregnancy issues, but living within the support of a community can help in raising the child.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Yeah, but there’s nothing uniquely Christian about having a community to support people. “It takes a village to raise a child” is not a Christian saying. Heck, social safety nets are just that- government is our community writ large. Communities can be great sources of support in hard times, I agree with you there, but I take some mild offense at the idea that community support is somehow uniquely Christian. If I’d thought you meant it that way, I’d take great offense, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t.

        And if the community is helping people who need it, as should happen, why does marriage matter at all outside of the personal preferences of the two people involved? I guess I’m not really seeing what you were trying to say in your post. Could you clarify it please?

      • Ryan

        I was not trying to claim that community support is uniquely Christian, but rather that I as a Christian strongly believe in community support.

        Marriage in the U.S. mostly has come from the Christian practice of marriage. This Christian practice of marriage intrinsically includes communal elements. These communal elements are slipping away from marriage and intimate relationships.

        Marriage is neither all communal nor all between two people. If the community is helping people who need it, marriage still matters as a relationship between two people. Marriage is both a private and public thing. Rightly practiced and understood, it is a safeguard to help promote healthy partner relationships, healthy families, and a healthy society. That being said, I think most people would agree that marriage as it is currently practiced in our society falls well short of its potential. I don’t think this means we should just scrap marriage, but rather see the potential to redeem it and work together to make it a healthy and helpful thing.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Alright, we disagree then. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think marriage as a partnership of equals is a good thing overall, but I don’t think it’s a necessary thing. Society and families can be perfectly healthy with a low marriage rate; single parenthood, cohabitation, and domestic partnerships provide a plethora of other equally valid options to marriage. I’d like there to be a legal status for poly groups too, though that would be quite tricky to pull off in practice.

      • Joykins

        “Yes, I also know single moms who are divorced, but marriage makes it more difficult for a partner to back out on his/her commitment.”

        Unfortunately what really seems to have the most teeth is paternity testing and child support laws.

      • The_L1985

        Not always. If you get divorced, and your ex-spouse moves out of state, there is fuck-all that can be done to enforce those child-support laws. I know because it happened to relatives of mine.

      • Joykins

        It has more teeth than marriage vows. Sadly, there are always people who will go to any ends to avoid responsibility for their children even in violation of the law.

      • KristinMuH

        I think it’s because anti-choicers see abortion as a way for women to avoid the SHAME of an unplanned pregnancy. If you’re married there’s no reason for you to be ashamed of being pregnant, so no reason you’d want to end the pregnancy.

        Of course, in the real world, shame is pretty far down on the list of reasons why anyone needs an abortion, but when I was an anti-choice teen that was what I thought happened. It’s OK, I got better ;)

      • Katty

        Another assumption is that there is no difference in a consensual relationship between unmarried and married people. [...] A devaluing of what marriage can be is necessary for the claim above.

        Whyever would marriage have to be devalued? We can simply value consensual relationships between unmarried people more highly than they are valued now and achieve equal value that way. No devaluing necessary.
        This is the same type of thinking that says that marriage equality for LGBTQ people devalues “traditional” marriage. Not true in either case.

      • Ryan

        It has to be devalued because you have to subtract things from marriage to get it down to the level of “consensual relationships” Consensual relationships lack the communal aspects of marriage. A consensual relationship is a private thing between two people. A marriage is a consensual relationship between two people, AND a commitment made publicly in the context of a community (and a commitment made before God if the person is a person of faith). To add those dimensions to consensual relationships it would have to be called something else, because “consensual” implies this is something only between two people. So, if we’re going to add those other elements into the consensual relationship, why not just call it a marriage?

        If you want to add the communal part and subtract out the religious part, then come up with a different name than marriage or consensual relationships. I think this would be a great idea. I’m against forcing religion on others. However, I think we can do better than consensual.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Actually “consensual” just means neither party is being forced into it. Which seems like a feature, not a bug.

      • Ryan

        I would agree that “consensual” is a good thing. I’m saying that we can base our sexual ethic on something more than just a consensual relationship. I don’t think consensual goes far enough.

      • Olive Markus

        Who here is trying to subtract things from marriage in order to “get it down” to the level of consensual sex?

        Marriage is not consensual sex. Consensual sex isn’t marriage. I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say here. We’re not trying to have consensual sex, add those “dimensions” you’re talking about and start calling it marriage. Or anything. And nobody wants to make a public announcement or promise to God about their consensual sex. Well, maybe some do, but that’s a whole other conversation.

        You are simply rearranging the words of the argument of

        Sex in Marriage = Good

        Sex outside Marriage = Bad

        assuming that we are, for some reason, trying to eradicate marriage and simply replace it with random, consensual sex. I think. Or something. Otherwise, I have no idea what you’re trying to say.

        P.S. Consensual sex can be between more than two people. Unmarried and married, actually. That happens a lot.

        P.P.S. Your relationship has absolutely nothing to do with the value of mine. And mine nothing to do with the value of yours. If your marriage is valuable to you, nothing, not one thing, that I do within my relationship can possibly change that.

        P.P.P.S. We are doing better than consensual. It’s called Consent + Respect. Both are very important.

      • Ryan

        I was talking about having to subtract things from marriage to bring it down to just consensual relationship in response to this comment from Katty: “Whyever would marriage have to be devalued? We can simply value consensual relationships between unmarried people more highly than they are valued now and achieve equal value that way. No devaluing necessary.” My argument was that “We can simply value consensual relationships between unmarried people more highly than they are valued now and achieve equal value that way” would still not lead us to something similar in value to marriage. In my opinion, it is still missing the larger social implications of marriage.

        In response to your P.P.S, I agree that “If your marriage is valuable to you, nothing, not one thing, that I do within my relationship can possibly change that.” However, there are larger social factors involved where your relationship does effect my life. The extent of this varies, but our lives are more interconnected than we typically realize. This would include even things as simple as the taxes we pay that are used for public use.

        In response to your P.P.P.S., I was focusing on “consensual” because I was responding to Katty who used that term. I would argue that we can also do better than “Consent + Respect.” I’m sure there are probably some other things you may want to add to this equation as well, but we might not totally agree on what those things would be. We see things differently. I’m okay with that. Hopefully we can be mutually respectful towards one another and be open to learning from each other, and work together to create a better society.

      • The_L1985

        Er, how exactly is it “unfortunate” for consensual sex to be treated the same when it’s between two unmarried people as it is when it’s between a married couple? I can understand people being upset if adultery were being treated the same as those other 2 forms of sex, or if rape were being treated as identical to consensual sex, but I don’t see how “A and B are single” vs. “A and B are married to each other” should be a big deal with regard to one and only one act.

        “However, it is a glorified fantasy to think that there is no risk and no cost involved to consensual sexual partners.”

        That’s why people generally don’t believe that. Just because my boyfriend and I have decided that a 2% risk* is an acceptable risk, and you have decided otherwise, does not make either of us wrong in our risk assessment. However, it would be wrong to say that we don’t believe that there’s any risk of me getting pregnant. (Frankly, I hope I don’t get pregnant on the Pill, because some of the other meds I take can kill or severely deform a human embryo, and I don’t ever want to do that to a kid. When I am ready to have children, I will have to have a lot of Long, Serious Talks with my neurologist, psychiatrist, and OB/GYN about which meds to quit, when, and when it’s safe to start taking them again.)

        * Rate of pregnancy, over the course of one year, among couples using the Pill as their sole source of birth control.

  • jmb

    It comes down to a view of Sex As Magick. It’s the flip side of Fertility Rites to call the rain and bring the harvest: ascetism grants control over the mysterious powers of the body, and through the flesh, dominion over the realm of spirits.

    It far predates Christianity, as the ancient Hindus, Buddhists, Mesopotamians, Greek and Roman mystics all had beliefs that eschewing physical pleasures not only brought ritual purity and pleased the gods, but helped grant great supernatural powers, even immortality, and that self-discipline was crucial to these and other endeavors like taming demons.

    It shows up all through the Lives of the Saints, with holy monks and hermits being able to teleport, scry, turn aside weapons, weather-work, heal, and so on, not just because they didn’t do sex, but as part of the whole regime of fasting, sleeplessness, and meditation — and yes, sometimes self-harm, with whips and sharp rocks and hair shirts and the rest.

    In other words, it’s a Pagan Survival, like Christmas Trees and Easter Eggs and playing in the dark with fire and water at the Cardinal Points of the Year, but like them, it has survived where other traditions didn’t last, because it speaks to us on some profound level.

    The idea that by hurting ourselves, we can Level Up, For Real, is everywhere, from diet and exercise books to people paying thousands to risk their lives in dodgy New Age sweat lodges or climb mountains, the idea that we can Control Our Fate, by doing painful things to ourselves.

    Just because it’s an old idea, doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Or even a harmless one, for that matter. But Stories are powerful things…

    • persephone

      As a Pagan, I find sex magic to be incredibly power. That’s the magic that can be worked during sex, not by avoiding it.

      While some traditions have honored those who separated themselves in the pursuit of knowledge, these people were recognized as exceptions, not the rule. There were also times when different segments of the population would celebrate certain mysteries and rituals that would require a period of cleansing and separation, but it would only be for a certain period.

      The ascetism that is held up to all Christians as a goal descends from the nomadic heritage of the Jews. When you have little to give, you give what you have, and that is often denial of one’s desires, wants, even needs, as proof of one’s faith. This is the biggest difference between Christianity and Paganism: it is accepted that some will pursue a deeper knowledge and personal commitment in Pagan traditions, but that most people wil not, but their worship is still acceptable and they still have faith; in the Christian tradition, everyone is a sinner and much be perpetually striving for more proof and demonstration of their faith.

      • jmb

        I’ve spent many years reading Arcane texts from antiquity, both the Mediterranean Basin and further East, and you can’t get more hardcore than the asceticism of the sadhus and arhats of Asia. Have you read the ancient rules for becoming a Buddhist monk? I really don’t think they got that from the nomadic heritage of the Jews, any more than the sex purity rituals of ancient Sumerian cities came from their pastoral neighbors. Free-lovin’ Hippies the ancient Pagans were not.

        Ideals honored more in the breach, to be sure — medieval Asian humor on the subject of lecherous, gluttonous, all-round hypocritical clerics is shockingly similar to medieval European jokes on the subject– but the Neo-Platonic idea that matter is gross and psychically weakening and that Reality exists on the spiritual plane, probably came into Greek culture down the Silk Road (just as the Classical Aphrodite iconography spread eastward through the Khyber pass) and thence into Christianity.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Thank you, thank you. I was too tired to address the “Pagans were monolithically a bunch of sex-positive free spirits (despite the fact that “Pagan” describes a vast number of religions from enormously disparate cultures–whatevs!) and all the sexual prudery stuff is the Jews’ fault” trope…

      • persephone

        Hardly the case. The wide range of Pagan traditions makes more than an overview in a comment difficult.

      • persephone

        I agree with you on the free-lovin hippies thing. Any decent reading of history will confirm that.

        My point was that what is only expected of some in most Pagan traditions, is expected of all in most Christian traditions, especially the fundamentalist traditions of all the abrahamic faiths.

      • Ibis3

        I think it’s pretty safe to say that Pagan religions have both material world-affirming and material world-denying strains, while Christianity is almost entirely on the denying, ascetic side. They glommed onto that first-century Manichean-style Neo-Platonism and haven’t let it go.

      • Alix

        This is one reason I find folk Christianity fascinating, for how the various strands alter or even discard that “denying, ascetic side.”

        …I find folk religion in general really fascinating, though. Much more so than orthodoxies.

      • Alix

        As a [modern] Pagan, I find sex magic to be incredibly power.

        Fixed that for you.

        Look, I really, really don’t get the “ancient pagans were totally sex positive!” thing, and I’m a pagan myself. And a historian.

        Some were more sex positive than the modern US, some … very much weren’t. Including all of ancient and classical Greece and Rome, the civilizations of Mesopotamia, and plenty of other societies besides. (Can’t really speak to them; my focus is the ancient Med.) All societies have had some form of sexual mores and restrictions, and not as simple and sex-positive as “only with consenting adults” either.

        The vast majority of modern paganism comes from not only Victorian scholarship and pseudo-scholarship, but by blending modern views of things with what bits of ancient religions survive. And (obviously) I think that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean ancient pagan women were going around having magical sex and were totally valued by all the menfolk, either, or that a focus on preserving one’s virginity was important only for Jews. (Medusa is the standout mythic example to me at the moment, thanks to Other Projects, but there are plenty, both mythic and real.)

        …I have to say, I find people rewriting the past to line up with their modern beliefs … almost offensive. I really do.

      • stacey

        I think it was a little less rewriting history” and a lot more “trying to get an idea down without writing a book”.

      • Alix

        …I admit it, I’m confused.

      • CarysBirch

        I get where you guys are coming from, but I really wish we could kick the “pagan” vs “Christian” dichotomy in this context. The way it’s framed plays into the “Christians are enlightened and civilized and they could only have picked this hooey up from those stinky barbaric pagans” bullshit that frankly has no place in the discussion. Ancient paganism and classical christianity — and modern christianity — have a lot of magical thinking in both systems. There’s not any bright line here. Christianity can own it’s own faults. Acknowledge the neoplatonic influence, by all means but Christianity had a well defined ascetic sexual ethic long before Anselm and Aquinas got hold of Plato, and even before Paul did.

        As a (modern) pagan it does raise my hackles to see christianity given a free pass as less bunk than other contemporaneous religions on the basis of that arbitrary (and self selected) dichotomy.

      • Alix

        Erm, where the hell did I give Christianity a free pass? I’m about the furthest thing from a Christian apologist, being that I’m pagan too.

        Yes, Christianity can own its own damn faults. And it pisses me right off when modern Christians try to insist there’s no misogyny, slavery, genocide, or other uncomfortable things in the Bible or the history of their religion.

        But I am equally fucking tired of pagans running around acting like paganism is all some super-perfect awesome feminist/egalitarian/sex-positive religion, just like the ancients practiced! Because pagan religions and cultures had/have flaws too.

        And I do not like it when we whitewash the past.

        You are right in that there’s no real dichotomy here between pagan religions and Christianity. Both have very misogynistic aspects, classist aspects, cruel aspects. Both also have things to value. But I have had it up to here with pagans earnestly telling me all about how all bad things are totally Christian and refusing to own their own shit.

        I mean, is some goddamn intellectual honesty that fucking much to ask for?

      • CarysBirch

        Alix – Sorry, the uneasy truce between my mobile phone and disqus made it look more like that post was directed at you than it was intended to. It was intended to address the whole conversation, but mostly jmb’s original comment which brought “pagan survivals” into the picture in the first place (complete with allusions to “playing in the dark with fire and water at the Cardinal Points of the Year”), which is an idea I find both incorrect and problematic on other levels.

        That dichotomy we set up between Christian and Pagan, in this case? Shenanigans. By letting that slide, we’re feeding and reinforcing Christianity’s constructed privileged narrative that there is them and then… well, there’s everyone else. I hate that narrative, and it irks me to see it crop up here and be applauded all around. There is no reason to call the development of Evangelicals’ brand of sexual morality a pagan survival, its roots are pretty clear from Jewish purity laws surrounding menstruation, and even further back to the interaction of Adam and Eve.

        And considering you didn’t like what you thought was me putting words in your mouth (for which I apologize, I do see how I gave that impression and it was unintentional), I would like to say that I honestly did not say, nor have I ever said any of the rest of what you commented on on this blog or anywhere else (at least since my very early, very silly days). Those things bother me too — a lot, in fact — but aren’t really the point that I was addressing. This conversation should have been unnecessary in the first place because the whole concept of “pagan survivals” is irrelevant, since magical thinking about sex is built into Christianity inherently just as much as it is into any other contemporaneous religion.

      • CarysBirch

        And this is why I mostly try to refrain from commenting on “pagan stuff” in general, because I get into arguments I never meant to start, I hope I was able to make myself clearer on my second attempt.

      • Alix

        I mostly try to refrain from commenting on “pagan stuff” in general

        Ha. I wish I had your self-restraint, but, well. The whole reason I’m even studying history is that my pagan leanings sucked me into it, and can we say obsession? I knew we could. ;)

        I did pretty much drop out of socializing on pagan sites, though, after the last burning-times argument I got into with someone who told me that the real history didn’t matter, only what e felt was true. :/ That’s people’s real lives and real history you’re appropriating for your persecution myth, commenter-from-years-ago.

      • Alix

        Ah, alright. I’m following you now. I see your point and I agree, but while I absolutely do agree that Christians need to own their shit and stop offloading all unsavory aspects of the Bible onto pagans, I also really don’t like promoting the idea that Christianity’s some kind of closed system that never borrowed from local pagans, either, or at least not in a negative sense.

        The Christian/pagan dichotomy is ridiculous, and not just for the reason you point out, that it privileges Christianity above everyone else. It also cuts Christianity off from the rest of human cultural history, mashes all that cultural history into one undifferentiated “pagan” mass … and then sets up an us vs. them dynamic that’s wrong and inaccurate no matter which side is “us.” I despise the way many Christians talk about paganism, as if it’s obviously demonic and illegitimate, I despise the way many atheists/nontheists/whoever talk about paganism as if it’s obviously silly and archaic and barbaric, and I despise the increasingly-common narrative I hear from fellow pagans, that all evil came into the world with Christianity and paganism was always sunshine and roses until the mythical “Burning Times,” when eeeeeevil Christians tried to wipe us all out.

        Demonizing the Other is always wrong and requires crazy contortionist oversimplifications, no matter who’s been set up as Other. It helps no one to perpetuate such false dichotomies.

        *takes deep breath* I ought to stop when I’m ahead.

        I apologize for blowing up. As you can probably tell, it’s a bit of a touchy subject for me. :) Thanks for taking the time to clarify.

      • CarysBirch

        It’s a touchy subject for me too, but I think I can say we’re in COMPLETE agreement. :)

        No hard feelings, yes?

      • Alix

        No hard feelings at all! I’m very much a flash-in-the-pan personality – I get irritated, I try to walk the line between venting and explaining*, it all subsides.

        *I used to try too hard to repress any signs of anger, irritation, whatever, only to find I was usually too successful and people ended up never knowing they set me off. I … tend to find it healthier for communication all round if I actually make it clear when I’m annoyed/wev, even if that does sometimes backfire.

      • The_L1985

        POCM.info agrees with you.
        “The question is not whether Christianity borrowed from ancient pagan religions. Christianity is an ancient pagan religion.”

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Eh, I find paganism obviously silly, but no more or less silly than any other religion. Christianity is silly too, as are Buddhism and Jainism and Islam and Hinduism and Shintoism and Judaism and Wicca and every other religion ever. They all go into the same bucket, with caveats made for more or less harm (paganism falls into the not-so-harmful subcategory, at least as generally practiced today).

      • Alix

        That I’m actually okay with. I mean more the kind of people who use paganism as some standard of utter ridiculousness, like “well, people used to believe in Zeus too, so there” – that kind of thing.

        Because honestly, I think all religions are at least a little silly, and I’m religious. I embrace the silliness. :)

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Oh yeah, that is just rude. Zeus and Odin aren’t any more ridiculous than Jesus, that’s for sure, and to tell someone to their face that their beliefs are just *rolleyes* is pretty awful.

        Besides, paganism isn’t exactly ‘a’ religion. It’s a subcategory that covers a whole lot of religions- I don’t think anyone considers the Greek pantheon and the Norse pantheon part of the same religion …

      • Alix

        I think the problem is more that it’s a common rhetorical technique for trying to get Christians/whoever to think about how silly they are. “You believe in this Christ stuff, but nobody sane believes in something silly like Zeus anymore” – as if that’s some lowest-common-denominator of religious stupidity, as if there are no pagans anymore, and as if ancient people were obviously sooo much stupider than us modern enlightened folks.

        Grr. Clearly, it’s a rhetorical trick I despise, along with the similar, “well, no one believes in fairies…” I know some serious people who do/my ancestors did. Thinking a belief is stupid is fine – it’s that technique? That assumption that everyone thinks something’s obviously so stupid?

        Besides, paganism isn’t exactly ‘a’ religion. It’s a subcategory that covers a whole lot of religions-

        Very true!

        I don’t think anyone considers the Greek pantheon and the Norse pantheon part of the same religion

        *Sigh.* You would be very surprised. I’m not quite sure how some people make it work, but I know a fair number of modern pagans who basically believe that.

        Obviously, that’s a pretty modern belief. Syncretism existed in the ancient world, but … not quite like that. XD

        Edit: …that sigh’s not directed at you, by the way.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Heh, I did catch that you were sighing at the world in general, but the clarification is still appreciated. Yeah, that technique’s one I stay away from. I generally go with the IPU (Invisible Pink Unicorn) or the invisible fire-breathing dragon in the garage, as those have not ever been anyone’s religious symbols.

      • The_L1985

        A-fucking-men! (Or should that be, “So mote it fucking be?”)

      • persephone

        I said that myself as a Pagan …. I’m certainly not speaking for modern or ancient Pagans, just myself.

        I’m beginning to wonder if anyone actually read my entire comment. All I seem to be getting are kneejerk responses.

      • Alix

        I did actually read your comment, and it struck me entirely the wrong way. That wasn’t what you meant; I misread you, and I apologize. (The perils of online communication tripped me up again!)

        I do still find aspects of your comment overly reductionist and wrong; for one, I find it far too simplistic to argue that concepts like sin and purity somehow only derive from Jewish tradition, when you do absolutely get similar concepts in other cultures around the Mediterranean. (Again, can’t speak for elsewhere.) I do have a problem with acting like Christianity only sprang from Jewish traditions – and the assumption that Jewish traditions never affected and were never affected by the surrounding pagan cultures, which is decidedly untrue.

        It does read like you’re trying to say all this purity bullshit is somehow unique to Judaism/Christianity and never cropped up anywhere in pagan-dom. If that isn’t what you meant, I would be grateful if you could clarify, since I seem to be having a brick moment.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=141304249 Sarah Jones

      Agreed. It’s magical thinking. Sex can be intimate and special, but the act itself possesses a relative significance. It is what you want to be. By itself, it doesn’t signify a lack of control, any more than eating a meal (by itself) signifies the same thing.

  • Pofarmer

    This idea that God should be in the center of the marriage is just too wierd. It’s hard enough for two people t be married without interjecting a third party, which may be saying different things to the other two parties.

    • Alice

      And I don’t get why fundamentalists say that God must be at the center of the marriage or it is DOOOOMED. If this were true, then non-Christian marriages would have a 100% failure and dissatisfaction rate.

      • springaldjack

        Christianity has, since Augustine at latest, always had a troubled road reconciling theology of the natural human with the reality of non-Christians.

      • Pofarmer

        I’m reading a book right now called, “The Gospel of Ireland” which talks about Augustine, and St. Patrick, so far. They were some messed up dudes.

      • springaldjack

        But St. Patrick was largely a local problem. As the most influential theologian after Paul, Augustine has cast a very long shadow indeed.

      • Pofarmer

        Yeah, Augustines Peccadillo’s have certainly been inconvenient. If the story is true, there was another dude, Pegalius? Who had different views than Augustine, especially on original sin, and he was actually winning the battle within the church. But then, he managed to piss of the Emperor, and the Emperor basically made Augustine’s views orthodoxy just to punish Pegalius.(sp). The way the Church’s views and practices came into being is a screwed up mess, and we are supposed to believe that this is the most Holy of Holys. Bah.

      • springaldjack

        Pelagius, I think. There’s legit dispute about wether Pelagius actually held to the views which came to be called Pelagianism. Regardless while he differed on original sin, he was actually a stricter moralist. He just believed that one could be perfected morally without divine grace.

        The idea that self-denial is an expression of or path towards Holiness goes back to the Desert Fathers in the 3rd century (forerunners of Christian monasticism) if not all the way to Paul or even to the Gospel writers. “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

      • Pofarmer

        “He just believed that one could be perfected morally without divine grace.”

        Yes, but the implications of that theologically are pretty huge, including the place of the Church.

      • Stev84

        Pelagius thought that you can be good without god. Can’t have that obviously, because it lessens the church’s control over the people. So he needed to be shut up.

    • Sunny

      I was reading a friend’s facebook and one of the well wishers on her anniversary said ” God bless you and your threesome with Him” IN ALL SERIOUSNESS. She continued with stuff about Satan and three strand cord.

      It’s the sort of thing my siblings and I used to sing to the tune of praise songs because it’s there (my dad stopped making us go to church – win!), but people usually don’t say it explicitly.

    • smrnda

      Yeah, this always gets me. Do people get off on the idea of god watching them have sex or something?

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana Hope

    I think she can say that sex outside marriage is wrong without saying that a hymen is a prize or a gift.

    I do get the shame-connection, though. “Why is sex outside marriage wrong?” “oh, well, it wounds your heart and mind”….”oh that means I’m a slut.” But I am not sure if that is Rachel’s reason. I think it will be interesting to see her search this topic more.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Sure, she can say that. She can say anything she wants. Merely saying things doesn’t necessarily mean they make a lick of sense, however.

      • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana Hope

        yea I hear you. But just because someone says sex is wrong does not mean virginity is a prize. For example, one could believe it’s wrong because it results in pregnancy. That possibly could have nothing to do with a prize (for many Christians it does, though I like to think it’s about the children). Obviously, that’s a bit weak considering we have contraception (and Rachel does not appear to use this argument), nevertheless, it’s an argument I’ve heard used before. There are other arguments out there although I think they rely on a Christian base. While the majority of people make non-sex about some kind of prize, I’m just not confortable saying everyone does.

  • “Rebecca”

    Actual real-life reasons to abstain lose ground quickly when they’re examined. Even Biblical support for it is not as solid as I had been taught to think. Hence the reliance on shame tactics (like the chewing gum metaphor), BSing about birth control, and vague appeals to self-control. If you can’t make a firm case that all premarital sex hurts its practitioners, you’re on shaky ground. Not to mention the huge gray area of “What counts as sex?” (The correct answer of course is “Whatever makes you feel guilty when you do it” which ought to be “everything” if you’re holy enough.)
    I think the abstinence-until-marriage model made a reasonable amount of sense in societies where people could marry younger, sex was almost certain to lead to pregnancy, and the outlook for a single mother and fatherless children was grim. But thankfully the tides are turning in the past few decades with reliable birth control, more career options for women, etc. And with late marriage these days, the abstinence model amounts to mandating a sexless life until the late 20s or even into their 30s. Deplorable. Sadly people forget that “the sabbath was made for man, not the man for the sabbath,” so to speak, and abstinence has become a rule for its own sake instead of being re-examined for utility.

    • Alice

      And before there were DNA tests, the paternity of children couldn’t be conclusively determined, so that could have been another reason to marry a virgin.

      • Rilian Sharp

        Where did this caring about whose DNA a kid is made from come from? They totally skipped over this in the history book I’m reading. They said that men wanted to control women’s sex because of inheritance, as if this were just a normal thing to be concerned about.

      • Rilian Sharp

        Also, there must have been an imbalance of power to begin with, or else the men wouldn’t have been able to control women like that. I think it’s just that men are physically stronger, but this book (Ways of the World by Robert Strayer) doesn’t address this at all. Rather, he claims that “gathering and hunting” societies were egalitarian, and then agricultural ones weren’t.

      • Alix

        Foraging societies are generally egalitarian, but they are also still often separated by strict gender roles. You do still see traces of hierarchy and (usually) patriarchy in foraging societies, though, so to characterize them as perfect egalitarian societies doesn’t work.

        How things transitioned from there into hierarchical agricultural societies is still not 100% clear. The best explanation I heard was that agriculture is what allows people to really start accumulating wealth and power as we understand it, and all it takes is a few opportunists to get the ball rolling.

        Also, the transition didn’t happen all at once in a smooth fashion, so you would’ve had a few groups go agricultural and some not, and from there it’s not hard to imagine a scenario much like that in Genesis, where the nomadic pastoralists/other non-agriculturists have to go beg the agriculturists for food in lean times. If you combine that with the strict separation of gender roles that already existed, you get an entire set of society entirely or largely dependent on the other half for food.

      • Anat

        But at least some horticulturist societies are matrilineal with women having significant power. As I understand it, much depends on which gender controls the production of the most valuable food source. Which is why far-range pastoralists are probably the most patriarchal.

      • Alix

        Yeah. If we’re talking the transition to Western patriarchal agriculturalist societies, though, we’re talking men being in control of that food source, or gaining control. As far as I’m aware, though, the transition to agriculturalism’s not fully settled, so there might be other factors. I suspect, also, that the particular power structures in the particular proto-agriculturalists who settled also affected how the particular society they ended up developing turned out. (Whoo, that’s a nightmare of a sentence, sorry.) I did overgeneralize, though, so thank you for that correction.

        The evolution of societies fascinates me, especially the diversity in how societies are structured. Those social structures are things people take as innate somehow, and yet the more I study the more I realize very little actually is.

      • The_L1985

        Well, yes. Once inheritance laws came about that passed everything down from a man to his sons, there became a strong need for each man to be sure that those boys his wife was raising were actually his.

        Granted, this still requires for property to be held in the hands of men and never women, which implies things were already patriarchal in the societies where that aspect of virginity-worship was being practiced.

      • Rilian Sharp

        That men held all the property in most societies is a separate issue. I’m asking why did they care if it was their DNA in the kid? Whether you raised them is what determines if they’re actually your kid.

      • Jayn

        Not everyone agrees with that, and to some people it can be important that their children really are ‘theirs’. (Cripes, the whole plot of Game of Thrones pretty much hinges on this)

      • Rilian Sharp

        My question is how did this come to be such a big concern to so many people.

      • jmb

        Biology. Seriously, pick up a biology textbook or read a zoology website. It’s all about passing on the “selfish genes” first, and social status second. Even among insects.

      • Rilian Sharp

        God, I have read biology books. I know about this. So I guess you are saying humans are just stupid animals like everyone else. I guess we just shouldn’t bother with morality anymore then.

      • jmb

        No, we are stupid animals if we don’t accept we are animals. Which is the core of religion and the whole “Adam created separately,” and the hatred of Evolution among fundies, and the insistence that we’re still Different by the less fundamentalist denominations. If you try to pretend that caring about resources and reproduction is an artificial thing created by religion or society, you will never understand how to counter it., and be as bewildered by it all as Pat Robertson is.

      • Rilian Sharp

        You know what, this has nothing to do with people wanting to make sure they are passing their property down to genetic descendants.

      • jmb

        Can you be a little more coherent? I don’t know what you’re referring to by “this.”

        If you mean male domination, well, unfortunately, male domination for resources, including territory, hunting and grazing and nesting grounds, is very much part of social animal nature. That females compete too, in ways that have been largely ignored by institutional sexism in biology for a long time, is also part of it. Stepping out on the alpha male to get better father genes from elsewhere has been going on for a lot longer than scientists have had the tools to prove it.

      • Rilian Sharp

        By “this” I meant your comments. It was perfectly coherent. Sorry you didn’t understand.

        Something being a part of nature doesn’t make it moral. I can’t comment further because I have no idea what your point is.

      • The_L1985

        Something being a part of nature doesn’t automatically make it IMmoral, either.

      • Rilian Sharp

        I didn’t say it does.

      • jmb

        Also, stop strawmanning and being ridiculous. You haven’t left your religion very far behind, not in the hindbrain, if you have to jump to that kneejerk assertion of “atheists are all criminals”. Here’s a quote from a very wise atheist who says it far more eloquently:

        “Once we were blobs in the sea, and then fishes, and then lizards and rats, and then monkeys, and hundreds of things in between. This hand was once a fin, this hand once had claws! In my human mouth I have the pointy teeth of a wolf and the chisel teeth of a rabbit and the grinding teeth of a cow! Our blood is as salty as the sea we used to live in! When we’re frightened, the hair on our skin stands up, just like it did when we had fur. We ARE history! Everything we’ve ever been on the way to becoming us, we still are. Would you like the rest of the story?[...] The old bit of our brains that wants to be head monkey, and attacks when it’s surprised. It reacts. It doesn’t think. Being human is knowing when not to be the monkey or the lizard or any of the other old echoes.”

      • Rilian Sharp

        What the floopidy floop are you talking about? I didn’t say anything about atheists being criminals, and also by the way I have never been religious. I’ve been an atheist my whole life and my parents are atheists.

      • gimpi1

        Love the Pratchett quote. A Hatful of Sky, right?

      • Whirlwitch

        Pratchett isn’t an atheist, actually.

      • Ariel

        All the cognitive science I’ve read indicates that the “human” part of the brain, whatever we have that other animals don’t, is tacked on to the “stupid animal” part of the brain. In other words, we have a bunch of nifty new cognitive behaviors (language, toolmaking, abstract thought) but they didn’t displace the existing animal instincts (caring more about organisms that share your genes than organisms who don’t), they just got added on.

        And I think it does “stupid animals” a disservice to say that you need to be human to “bother with” morality. Rhesus monkeys display morality—they’ve done experiments in which monkeys will freely choose to deprive themselves in order to prevent a monkey they don’t know from receiving an electric shock.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Very true. Many “higher” animals display ethical behavior. The difference between humans and other animals is more of a spectrum than a bright line in many cases.

      • Conuly

        Of course we’re animals! We need to eat… just like all animals. We need to sleep… just like all animals. We have a desire to reproduce and to help our kin… just like all animals. I don’t know why this is surprising to some people.

      • Rilian Sharp

        I didn’t say we’re not animals.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I don’t often agree with Rilian, but ze has a point here. The “it’s all biology! Our behavior is all determined by our need to pass on our genes!” is a tired and simplistic answer to a lot of things. There are a lot of complex cultural and social reasons why “blood” matters and has mattered to people, which I have briefly touched on above.

      • Rilian Sharp

        Thanks, apparently my wording sucks. Hopefully people will understand it the way you’ve said it.

      • Anat

        Well, the claim being made is proximal reasons for behavior exist on a background of neurology that was selected for by Darwinist processes. Any human society that exists long enough as a coherent unit should become populated by those people whose neurology is such that it supports those instincts that helped their ancestors spread their genes more. With many caveats – this assumes genetic variability in the relevant traits in the past, as well as strong enough selection forces relative to the size of the population in its history.

      • stacey

        Just because we are animals doesn’t mean that we should do away with morality. That just doesn’t follow.

      • Rilian Sharp

        Didn’t you mean this as a reply to jmb?

      • Rosa

        not excuse, but explain. We spend a lot of time making social structures to try to curtail our naturally shitty behavior (look at all that discussion we had here about how to structure laws to minimize the harm parents do to their children.)

        There’s a primatologist named Frans de Waal who compares chimpanzee, human, and bonobo strategies for managing conflict and especially for preventing infanticide. It’s really fascinating, because we’re all so different – but the underlying pressures, including males & dominant females tendency to kill infants that are not their own, are so similar.

      • The_L1985

        Um…how does “we should be assholes to each other” in any way follow from “we are animals?”

        My dog is an animal, but he doesn’t make it a point to go around raping and murdering!

      • Rilian Sharp

        It doesn’t, I didn’t say that. Jmb did.

      • jmb

        Not to most other social animals. Lions and chimpanzees will kill the cubs of rival males to guarantee their own genes are passed on. Meerkat matriarchs kill the litters of rival females. Passing on one’s own particular DNA is a biological imperative for all species, though some expand it to protecting the whole pack/pride and devote their resources to nurturing nieces and nephews.

        Cuckoos are so notorious that they became the byword for sneaking your DNA into someone else’s resource base via adultery, long before anyone knew how it all worked scientifically. Find a single species out there that doesn’t care about passing on their genes to the point of harming the group, even, and good luck with that. Humans are one of the few, if not the only, who even have the concept of adoption and non-blood kinship.

      • Conuly

        “Not to most other social animals. Lions and chimpanzees will kill the cubs of rival males to guarantee their own genes are passed on”

        Human children are killed often enough by stepfathers and others taking that role that it is actually a noticeable statistic. The only way we’re different is that we have the ability to recognize this and, on an individual level, not do it.

      • Joykins

        Guys these days still get upset over these things. Watch Maury a while, you’ll see.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        That’s a very modern notion. Throughout much of history the concept of “blood” as well as bloodlines mattered quite a bit to people–especially since people of different classes were considered to be actually essentially different from one another, even on a physical level, in the middle ages and early modern era (and, to some extent, even beyond.) If you were, say, a nobleman, you wouldn’t want to be raising a child with “common” blood. Just an example.

      • ZeldasCrown

        Petticoat-This was exactly what I was thinking. Look to the monarchies in Europe, who were very concerned about “pure” or “royal” bloodlines. They only married other royal people, or, if they were extremely concerned about purity, stayed within their own extended family. Read about some of the problems they faced with inbreeding, all due to insuring pure enough bloodlines. People figured out the sex->pregnancy connection a long time ago, and since you can always tell who a child’s mother is (since she gave birth) but not who the father is unless the child resembles him, there had to be a way to better secure the identity of the father (for reasons of inheritance or bloodlines). If the wife was a virgin before marriage, at least the first born child’s lineage is known.

        And while I definitely agree that it’s not DNA that makes a person’s parents-it’s the people who cared for you, this line of thinking is still prevalent today-just reference all the TV shows about “who’s the daddy”, or talk to a person who’s sentiment is “if it ain’t mine, I’m not raising it”. I read some particularly awful/difficult to read comments on an advice column about a married couple who has one child that was the result from the rape of the wife( by a man who wasn’t the husband, so not marital rape-the advice was how to deal with strangers asking if she had an affair, since it was obvious that the child wasn’t the husbands), where there were several men commenting that they would divorce their wife in this situation if she didn’t have an abortion-citing they wouldn’t raise another man’s child. Or how many couples turn to various fertility clinics rather than adopting (not that I think this is wrong, but it points to the often strong biological urge to have one’s own offspring).

      • Alix

        That’s how you think. And to be fair, that’s how a lot of people in the past have thought – inheritance along the male line isn’t actually a human universal, even today. Some cultures have had inheritance along both lines – father-son, mother-daughter – matrilineal inheritance, father-kid of any gender, foster parent-foster son, and even man-sister’s son.

        That said, there is frequently a notion that things belonging to a family need to stay in that family, and by that people often include “my genes.” I mean, cripes, even today you have tons of people concerned about propagating their genes in specific; we have a whole industry dedicated to helping people have their own biological children, despite having a lot of unwanted children as well.

        There’s also another matter here, and that’s that it’s really easy to end up seeing other people’s kids you’re forced to care for as freeloaders or parasites.

        Why yes, humans are selfish creatures. It’s one reason our social, moral, and legal codes often spend so much time curbing those selfish impulses.

      • tsara

        I’ve wondered this as well. Part of it, I think, is that the woman and the child(ren) were basically the man’s property, so there’s the ‘defrauding’ or even just betrayal aspect. And then there’s the sympathetic magic/philosophical like-begets-like idea.
        Also potentially interesting:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seclusion_of_girls_at_puberty

      • The_L1985

        Because in ancient times, blood and heredity were considered very, very important. They didn’t know how reproduction works, so they thought that semen was babies and that women got pregnant because the man’s “seed” was “planted” inside of them. (This is the entire reason why semen is ever called “seed” in the first place.) Thus, the essence of the child was considered to be that of the biological father.

        Bloodlines were also considered somewhat magical. The ancient Egyptians enforced inbreeding among the royal family precisely because they didn’t want the “royal blood of gods” to be “diluted” through marriage with non-royals. (To a lesser extent, this is what happened in European monarchies as well–royalty was expected to marry other royalty. This didn’t cause problems in Europe until there stopped being large numbers of monarchies to marry into.)

      • Joykins

        Historically they didn’t only know about DNA, they didn’t really know how much a mother contributed to the child. They did know the child grew from the man’s “seed” (in the woman’s fertile soil). Naturally you wanted to raise and leave your stuff to your son as opposed to someone else’s. Marrying a virgin meant you got to the potential baby mama first and it was your job to guard her well after that and make sure you had your own monoculture project going on.

      • Guest

        See, that’s always weird to me, because it only improves the chances that the kid born nine months after the first sexual act is yours – after that, it’s all down to fidelity, not virginity.

      • Alix

        Which would be why so many societies which are concerned with who the father of a child is are also societies concerned with controlling women after marriage, too.

        “A woman’s place is in the home” isn’t just a statement of separate-but-equal socioeconomic spheres, but a way to keep women away from strange men. And that’s … actually quite a mild example. For a more extreme example, look at classical Athens.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Which would be why so many societies which are concerned with who the father of a child is are also societies concerned with controlling women after marriage, too.

        And maybe also with primogeniture … ?

        That doesn’t totally work, though, because those same societies tend to be male-primogeniture ones.

        Just a sudden idea I had. never mind.

      • Joykins

        Take, for instance, the fratrocidal method of succession in the Ottoman empire. The sultan would have a harem of women and guard them well. Once a woman has a son, send him off to a province to learn governorship *with his mother as mentor*. When the old Sultan dies, the sons all fight each other; last one left ALIVE becomes the next Sultan. Evolution in action, in a way. The mother, of course, has all her eggs in her son’s basket by the time he is born.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I have self-control, thank you very much. I don’t rip the clothes off every attractive person I see and start raping them. “Wait til marriage” and “Don’t wait til marriage” aren’t the only two options when it comes to self-control.

  • Miss_Beara

    to the lordship of Jesus

    Is it wrong that I am still completely shocked by statements like this? My brain does not compute using these words in all seriousness. When I tried to believe in God and Jesus when I was a kid, my brain wouldn’t let me. It makes no sense. Seeing adults in the 21st century uttering these words astonishes me. I think my mind would implode if I lived in the bible belt.

    Equating virginity and holiness is bizarre, much like all of the other purity culture bs. She doesn’t reject it at all. Same thing, different words.

    • Mary C

      You know, I tried really hard to be a good Christian and Catholic growing up…I prayed, I tried church, I talked the good talk about “leaving it up to the lord,” etc. But deep down, I could never grasp the concept of a “relationship with god.” Because I could never get god to talk back, I could never figure out what he wanted – so I just attributed everything in my life to him regardless. Just like you, my brain wouldn’t let me go to that place where I really truly bought into it. Once I had to start trying to teach my child religion, it all fell apart. And now we are a family of happy atheists, with finally no more inner angst or turmoil about not being good enough Christians. And I am so glad not to be forcing that cognitive dissonance onto my daughter.

      • Alice

        Yeah, I think calling it a relationship sets some people up for disappointment and encourages others to think they “hear from God” in all kinds of bizarre ways.

      • “Rebecca”

        When I was a teenager I believed that God told me he would kill my family if I had a lustful thought. I nearly killed myself over the anguish this brought me.
        Yeah, it’s really dangerous to teach people that they should expect to hear things from God when they pray.

      • The_L1985

        There also isn’t enough emphasis on “Sometimes God’s answer is no.” Once again, Learning Through Error, ladies and gentlemen! http://learningthrougherror.tumblr.com/post/48325043141/god-is-a-vending-machine-from-bible-truths-for

      • Alice

        Wow, I can’t imagine how traumatic that must have been.

        I became a Christian when I was a preteen, and my anxiety shot through the roof. I constantly felt pressured to stop doing the things I wanted to do (computer games, TV) and start doing things I didn’t want to do like witnessing. I felt like people’s souls were in my hands, and it would be my fault if they weren’t “saved.” I beat myself up every time I was too shy or not a perfect example. I prayed and worried a lot about this.

        I felt so powerless because it was never okay to say no to God, and because it was like I didn’t matter, only God and other people mattered. Between this and authoritarian parenting, it’s easy to see why some women who grow up this way end up with controlling men. I didn’t, fortunately, but I still have a lot of trouble setting boundaries with people.

      • “Rebecca”

        Ugh, yeah, I remember the guilt when I wanted to watch some show I liked but there was this nagging feeling that God didn’t approve for whatever reason.

        I hope you’re in a better state of mind now. :)

      • Alice

        Thank you, I definitely am. Between the school of hard knocks, four years living on my own, and lots of self-help resources, things are much better now.

      • Rilian Sharp

        This reminds me of my mom. She said she “never really believed” but she couldn’t get herself to give up going to church until I was born. We are a family of atheists too : )

      • eamonknight

        It was the impending arrival of our first child that rid me of the last vestiges of my evangelicalism (though not of Christianity altogether at that time). Like you, it was the prospect of having to teach this to my growing child that made me realize I no longer believed it myself. And there was no way I was going to spend 20 years lying to my children.

    • Alice

      All the slave language in Christianity freaks me out, the idea that everything is God’s property, and you don’t own /anything,/ not even your own body. Slavery is slavery whether the master is benevolent or not. Paraphrasing what feminists have said before, people can’t teach consent unless they believe in basic human dignity and boundaries. Yes, you can choose whether or not to be God’s slave, but if you believe in hell, then it’s not a meaningful choice. Force and coercion are woven into the fabric of Christianity.

  • Mary C

    So if abstaining from pre-marital sex is necessary for self-control, why is sex suddenly ok once a person is married? If sex-on-demand “thrives at the expense of the dignity and value of our fellow human beings” prior to marriage, what magic can possibly happen during a marriage ceremony that change this? Doesn’t those people still need to practice self-control after they are married, or risk de-valuing humanity?

    I know I’ve heard the NFP crowd make the argument that abstaining from sex makes a couple stronger (which I don’t get, unless it is just some week long foreplay thing), but I don’t think RHE is arguing for abstinence during marriage.

    At best, her argument that pre-marital sex hurts the dignity and value of fellow human beings only works in cases of non-consensual or coerced sex.

    • Alice

      Yes, if people believe abstinence makes them more self-controlled and holy, then it would make more sense for them to dedicate themselves to a lifetime of celibacy. Thank goodness sex is necessary for procreation, otherwise I’m sure religions would love to ban it altogether.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Well, not all of them. All religions have their issues but Christianity really turns the sex-shame up to 11.

      • Alice

        True

      • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana Hope

        Yes, depending on the kind of Buddhism, some buddhists are okay with sex outside of marriage as long as its consensual and based on love, not just lust.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Most Jews these days are fine with it too…

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        A few of them have banned all sex. Needless to say, they tend to be pretty short-lived religions. The Shakers in the US (I think they have 3 living members, all quite old) are a modern example.

    • Joykins

      Being able to abstain from sex (when there are good reasons to), not “abstaining from pre-marital sex”, is necessary for self-control. This is true inside marriage as well as outside. This is the distinction that the blogger and RHE fail to make.

      • Mary C

        Yes, exactly. But even if RHE did make that distinction, she would still fail on the point of why it is necessary to *completely* abstain from pre-marital sex.

    • victoria

      There is an old, old strain of Catholic thinking that holds that the most virtuous thing one can do in marriage is to live in continence. It’s not that having sex is illicit or discouraged in marriage at all; just that abstinence is especially holy. And couples can choose to enter into such an arrangement by mutual consent after having raised a family, if they so choose. (Google “Josephite marriage” for lots of writing on this topic.)

      • Mary C

        There are so many really quirky Catholic things I didn’t understand as quirky (or just downright weird) until I was out of the faith.

        I guess that since I no longer believe that “holy” is a real concept (kind of a given since I don’t believe in a god), it is hard for me to get my head around the idea of not having sex with your spouse for the main purpose of becoming more holy. Odd.

      • victoria

        The more I read, the more inclined I am to the idea that some of the quirkiness is due to the fact that Catholic theology was developed by a relatively small number of people. (There are only thirty-five recognized Doctors of the Church, and of those a handful have had a much larger impact on the theology of the Church.)

      • Pofarmer

        Would there be any more information on that? Very interesting. It would be interesting to know which individuals came up with which doctrines without needing to do PHd level research.

      • The_L1985

        Bart Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted isn’t a bad place to start.

      • victoria

        Elaine Pagels Adam, Eve, and the Serpent is where I’ve read about this stuff in the most depth and it’s an excellent read. I definitely want to get to more of her books.

      • “Rebecca”

        Seems like everything new I learn about Catholicism gives me the heebie-jeebies. :(

      • Kate Monster

        Yeah, Catholic theology really is the gift that keeps on giving.

    • http://concerningpurity.blogspot.com/ Lynn Grey

      My thoughts exactly. Her argument inadvertently paints married people as people who either don’t have self control, or get a free pass on being held accountable for their actions. And it would mean that self control is something only practiced for a period of time, not your whole life.

  • Karleanne Matthews

    I’ve realized, years down the road, that purity culture was right in one thing that it told me: A good relationship can get highjacked by an obsession with sex, and you can underdevelop other kinds of intimacy because you’re fooling yourself into thinking that sex covers it all. The part that purity culture forgot to mention was that a relationship can just as easily be highjacked by an obsession with not having sex, and you can underdevelop other kinds of intimacy because you’re terrified it will all lead to sex. (I speak from personal experience in both cases.) So much for that whole not-being-a-slave-to-sexual-desires thing.

    One of the approaches I’ve read about that I liked best was talking about celibacy, rather than abstinence and virginity and purity, as a way to approach sex–both inside and outside of marriage. The idea was that one could talk about celibacy as a constantly evolving practice, rather than something that one WAS up until a specific endpoint (marriage). The purpose wouldn’t be to preserve some state of being, but rather to take the energy and focus that might have been spent on sex, and rather place it somewhere else for a certain period of time. That time might be until you got married, but that time might also be until you made it out of the teenage years when sex can get really complicated, or you beat that really tough semester, or you and your spouse got through a few really rough months with the kids.

    I think the reason I like this idea is that it can be applied both to Christians and nonchristians. For Christians, the impetus for shifting that focus and the alternate focus would likely have a lot to do with God. But for us atheists, there could be myriad other reasons. And it removes that aspect of purity culture that leads to abstinent couples spending more time obsessing about (not having) sex than couples in healthy sexual relationships.

    Does anyone else happen to remember where I might have read about this? I feel like it was somewhere in the blogosphere surrounding LJF, but can’t pinpoint it.

    • Christine

      I’m more used to chastity being promoted. It makes a lot more sense because a) it’s less of a tautology and b) it’s not something that just stops when you get married. How it’s practiced changes, but you don’t have something that was a virtue and then stops being one. (I would also argue that how one defines chastity doesn’t necessarily have to fall in line with the Christian definition, and this is then a fairly universal way of looking at things).

      • Pofarmer

        I fail to see the difference between Chastity and Abstinence. And with Chastity in marriage, I often fail to see the point.

      • Christine

        It’s obviously a difference in how the words get used. I’ve never heard abstinence (when referring to sex) to mean anything other than not having sex at all.

      • Pofarmer

        Well, before marriage, Chastity and Abstinence would mean the same thing, no? Then in marriage Chastity normally would be used to mean “Controlling ones desires,” not lusting after your partner, etc, although I really fail to see how that’s bad, but, anywho. Either way it stigmatizes sex and gives it more power in a relationship than it otherwise would have. We’ve spent eons rationalizing and demonizing a normal procreative and recreative act to the point that some are confused about it at it’s most basic levels.

      • Joykins

        Chastity means abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within it.

      • Pofarmer

        That’s being faithful to one’s spouse. Normally, Chastity would have the spectre of for some reason or other controlling your sexual desires within your marriage.

      • Joykins

        You may be confusing chastity with celibacy. While chastity incorporates the idea of celibacy as an aspect, chastity also allows for “licit” sex. In the Christian tradition, that means inside and faithful to marriage.

      • CarysBirch

        You know, I could almost get behind a redefinition of chastity as ethical sexual practice in general. As a person in a (newly exclusive) relationship, I practice chastity by having sex only with my partner. As a single person, I practiced it differently: by only having sexin consensual situations with any boundaries and expectations clearly and honestly communicated. I was briefly involved with a couple in an open relationship and they practiced it by staying within their mutually consented to boundaries and by treating their outside partners with respect and honesty.

        I actually could really like this definition.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

      “A good relationship can get highjacked by an obsession with sex, and you
      can underdevelop other kinds of intimacy because you’re fooling
      yourself into thinking that sex covers it all.”

      This is so incredibly rational. So is its opposite you also mention. Any obsession with sex (whether having it or not having it) can completely derail a relationship.

  • MNb

    It seems to me you don’t get REH’s point. You’re not to blame for it as she is a typical incoherent religious thinker. So I’ll have a shot (the arrogance! I’m a Dutch male).
    Jesus is the perfect embodiment, he never had sex plus there is Paul’s theology hence abstination. Because of the two ways of understanding REH also looks for rational arguments, hence the bla bla about being holy and self-control.
    Her issue though is the question how to promote abstinence. Here she borrows a didactic principle: positive stimulation works better than punishment. She forgets one thing though.
    When I misbehave on this blog you can try to correct me and give me a second chance. There isn’t a second chance for losing your virginity though. That’s why believers rather see this as murder; that’s irrepairable too. Losing your viriginity is something like killing part of yourself.
    Kinda sucks. That’s christian morals for you.

    • The_L1985

      Dude, do a Google search for “secondary virginity” or “born-again virgin.”

      • Pofarmer

        I don’t think most Christians even buy that. You can’t up pop the Cherry.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        You would be surprised.
        I have a very good friend who counts herself as a BAV – after she rededicated herself to church when she started university and is now waiting for marriage with her boyfriend. I almost wonder whether its harder for her than for her friends who had never had sex, as she knows what she is opting not to do…

      • http://fancystephanie.wordpress.com/ fancystephanie

        You can however, get a new hymen.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymenorrhaphy

      • The_L1985

        There is no “cherry” to pop. The vaginal corona doesn’t always develop in a way that covers the opening of the vagina. Some girls never develop a vaginal corona at all. And of course, no woman keeps the literal fruit in there either. :)

      • Olive Markus

        Boy. If only it were a literal cherry-dispenser!! :D

      • The_L1985

        Yeah, I was originally going to give the snarky reply of just, “I don’t know about you, but I never kept fruit in my vagina!” and just decided to keep that part after I added in some actual facts.

      • Olive Markus

        The way I have felt the last couple of days, maybe I can take care of the snark for everyone. I’ll leave facts to more rational minds!

        Speaking of which, are you a Mathematician? I have my degree in Math, though it’s been less than useless for me so far! I’m just speaking because of your image…

      • The_L1985

        College professor, actually. :) I lucked out.

      • Olive Markus

        Not luck. You earned it! I simply didn’t make it that far. Professorship was what I’d always wanted, though. Even as a kid, I used to spend hours upon hours writing homework and tests so my friends and I could play “teacher”… Yeah. Nobody else enjoyed it. Obviously :P.

        Totally not relevant to this post at all :D. Carry on!

      • The_L1985

        I meant that I lucked out in getting the job, not in getting the degree. :) You seem like a pretty cool person. We should totally hang out in comment threads more often.

      • Olive Markus

        Thanks! You, too. I’m here anytime!

      • Joykins

        And off we go to the Carol of the Cherry Tree. Whee!

      • Olive Markus

        I actually had to look that up…. :D :D

      • Little Magpie

        Yep. Fresh cherries are my favouritest fruit ever.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        On a totally side note, I say kiwis are superior to cherries (except for cherries marinaded in fun pink drinks, those are delicious).

        Let the fruit wars begin!

      • Little Magpie

        Um, vive la difference? :) Seriously if virginal vaginas were literal cherry dispensers I would only *ever* be having sex with young lesbians :)

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Lol! That would be pretty awesome.

      • Olive Markus

        Apparently you haven’t had the kiwis from my neck of the woods. Blech! At least kiwis look vaginal, though…

        I’m actually partial to ripe champagne mangoes! YUM.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Those are delicious too!

      • The_L1985

        Speaking of vaginal fruit–Peaches.

      • Kate Monster

        Guys, before you get all aboard the literal cherry-up-the-spout idea, think of the terrible, terrible infections that would lead to.

        And the awkwardness at the OBGYN! “How are things this year, Ms. Monster? Oh, I see that you’re looking a touch Maraschino right now…I’m going to prescribe a little something to move you back to the Bing area; that’s the normal range. Now, have you been pitted lately?”

    • Joykins

      That’s the point of purity culture, not RHE’s point. She’s saying something more like, hm, that there is still a point to practicing chastity as a Christian discipline even though she doesn’t believe in shaming people or that losing virginity before marriage means you’re forever corrupt and unclean.

  • Nomad

    Yeah, interesting how “self control” often means “doing what I tell you to do” to some people.

    But let me introduce a flip side of the coin. Just what kind of self control is it if a couple hastily gets married so that they can do the nasty with a clean conscience? How does this self control argument look if you end up marrying someone in a rush and it turns out that a mutual desire to bonk each other’s brains out is a poor basis for lifelong commitment?

    Is it self control if you get married so that you’re technically allowed to have sex? Or might self control mean something more than, as Broomhilde put it in Robin Hood, Men In Tights, “Before you do it, you must go through it! Or else I blew it”?

    There’s another component to this argument though. Try telling a gay couple that live somewhere that won’t allow them to marry that they should exercise self control until they get married. Just see how well that argument goes over, especially as the person making it is likely speaking as a representative of a group seeking to keep the couple from being able to ever marry.

    Then just hope that they have the self control to not punch you in your smug little face.

    • jmb

      Don’t forget the “Misery Loves Company” factor! If I have to give up sex for my cryptic religious reasons, it’s not fair that you guys get to have fun.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I think this is a big factor in why people get so very invested in this particular issue. RHE had been getting downright grilled by a lot of her readers, amny of whom had either waited until marriage and seemed to be having problems or had never been married, never had sex, and were now in their thirties, forties or older. I suspect appeasement of this crowd played a role in her decision to write this post, frankly.

    • http://concerningpurity.blogspot.com/ Lynn Grey

      That’s an excellent point. Rushing into marriage just to have sex exhibits an enormous lack of self control, far more so than an unmarried couple who chooses to have sex when they feel ready, IMO. If we make sex a self control issue, then marriage no longer has a place in the equation, because self control is a virtue that both married and unmarried people should practice.

  • MrRoivas

    The notion that I lack self control for having non marital sex is not only insulting and dismissive, its also inaccurate.

    Also, the blog person Rachel so approvingly links to calls herself a “hoe-bag” during the time she was having non marital sex. Kindly put, WTF?

  • JivinJ

    Consensual, safe sex does not operate at anyone’s expense or cause anyone harm.

    This statement is a little too general. Affairs hurt people. Lots of people.

    Countless people have been hurt when they’ve engaged in sex with someone and believed their partner’s feelings towards them were the same as theirs when they weren’t.

    • Jayn

      This hits towards why I consider the defining characteristic of a relationship to be communication, not sex. If two people in a relationship have different ideas of what the relationship is, yes that’s going to hurt the person who thinks it’s more serious, but the real issue is a lack of good communication that allowed that misunderstanding to happen. If one person is emotionally invested in the relationship and the other isn’t, it doesn’t really matter if they’ve had sex or not, that mismatch of ideas is going to cause pain.

      • ZeldasCrown

        I totally agree. The thing that hurts people is the lack of clarity-if one person thinks it’s the start of a “friends with benefits” and the other isn’t on that page, somebody’s going to get hurt. If one person thinks the other is unmarried when they actually are, well, there’s potential for many people to get hurt. I also agree that it’s not strictly based on whether two people have had sex or not. Ever hear of an “emotional affair”, where there’s an emotional attachment, but no physical aspect?

        There’s more than just consent to a singular sexual encounter-there’s being on the same page in the bigger picture. I think the question to be asked is, if the other person had full knowledge (i.e. if somebody had an affair with a married, person, but didn’t know that they were married, or had known that the other person’s feelings didn’t match their own) would they have still consented? And what does that say about a person who chooses to continue, knowing there’s a third party being kept in the dark?

      • Joykins

        This introduces the complexity of how emotions change when engaged in really any kind of relationship. Even if boundaries and expectations and communication is all clear, someone falling in love with their friend-with-benefits and getting heartbroken certainly happens.

    • tsara

      Fully informed consent?

    • Amethyst Marie

      Affairs aren’t consensual. They don’t have the consent of one or both parties’ partners. An ethic of consent requires the enthusiastic consent of everyone involved, and if one or both parties are already partnered, their partners definitely count.

      • JivinJ

        They are consensual between the people who have them. I didn’t see an asterisk in which “consensual sex” was defined the way you define it which seem atypical.

      • Amethyst Marie

        I haven’t taken any polls, but this is the way the sex-positive feminists I know define consent, including those who are in open/polyamorous relationships.

      • Alix

        I have to side with Amethyst Marie here – an affair means at least one person is now engaged in a nonconsensual open relationship.

      • LizBert

        If you read many feminist opinions on affairs you’ll see that many of us dislike the blame that the “other woman” gets in these situations. This is in part due to the idea that the person who made a commitment to someone else is breaking that promise and in the process hurting the person they initially committed to. I am heartily against affairs but I have no problem with other people being in poly or open or casual relationships because they have the full consent of all of the parties involved.

    • The_L1985

      Well, yes. Adulterous affairs hurt people because they break marital vows and thus, your spouse’s trust in you.

  • http://jennyrain.com/ JennyRain

    Some of your quotes were taken a bit out of context, and Rachel herself stated that she was “in process” on this and didn’t have it all figured out. You are stating that she has landed on a position, but when I read her blog, it was very obvious that she was opening the floor for discussion and exploration.

    To me, it’s important to all sides of this debate to allow people to be “in process” and in a journey. I don’t necessarily see that you have allowed Rachel that same freedom to be “in process” …

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Out of context? How? I also did state in my post that Rachel was still in process, but I don’t see her saying “I don’t know if sex before marriage is okay, I’m trying to figure that out” but rather “Sex before marriage is not okay, just let me find some other way than shame and virginity obsession to justify that.” Also, could you be specific about how I haven’t allowed Rachel to be “in process”? I always assume that someone’s stated position is what they believe now and that it might change. Am I supposed to assume that people’s stated positions aren’t actually what they currently belief? Am I supposed to stop taking people at face value? *confused*

  • http://lifeandtimesofmrlove.blogspot.com/ James Love

    I read your article first and then Rachel’s. I would say that she did a much better job explaining herself than you give her credit for. You seem to still be focused on the sex act, she seems to be focused on the whole gamut of sexuality and sex ethics. Her equation isn’t sticking a penis into a vagina (or LBGTQ variations) should wait for rings. She is saying, “Let’s step back, examine faith and see how our sexuality fits in the over all schemes of wholeness. Then let’s behave in such a way that we are promoting whole life growth and not focus on: masturbation – good, oral sex – questionable, etc. You two are almost having two different conversations.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Her equation isn’t sticking a penis into a vagina (or LBGTQ variations) should wait for rings.

      You say this based on what? Her entire post is an affirmation that she still believes sex should be saved for marriage. Sure, she tries to put it in a different context—one focused on self control and a “path of holiness” rather than on obsessing with virginity—but I don’t actually see her challenging the idea that sex should wait for marriage but rather affirming it.

      Also, I’m not focused on the sex act, I’m focused on a sexual ethic based on consent and respect rather than on saying “no no no” and then, after marriage, “yes yes yes.” How is that being focused on the sex act? Also, exactly where does Rachel develop sexual ethics themselves, beyond self control is good –> wait for marriage to have sex?

      Taking a step back is good. Taking a step back and assuring her readers that no, she hasn’t given up on believing sex before marriage is bad, on the other hand, is not so good.

      • http://lifeandtimesofmrlove.blogspot.com/ James Love

        Again, I just see you having two different conversations. She is approaching this at a wider angle. What I hear you saying is, “Having sex before marriage, not a big deal.” What I hear Rachel saying is, “Examine the totality of your sexuality and see how that fits into context.”
        In a way it reminds me of a conversation I find myself having frequently here in Alabama. The conversation most Evangelicals are having is “Gay sex is sin. Therefore that person choosing gay sex is living in sin.” Most homosexuals, and those who understand them more are saying, “I am a homosexual. It is my identity; this is simply who I am.” So because the language is so radically different those two crowds are not going to have very productive conversations.
        In that same regard, you, whether you acknowledge it or not, are still saying, “Let’s address the rules. The rules need to change.” What Rachel is saying is, “Self-reflection will help you live out a healthy sexuality. There is not a single standard that will apply to all people.”
        And that is why I say that you are still making this about the sexual act. Granted…and I am fulling willing to admit. This is my first time reading you, and I am reading with a certain bent that may be shadowing my eyes from understanding your true heart and intent. That is why I can give you a thumbs up here. I know that one post does not make a person.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Again, I just see you having two different conversations. She is approaching this at a wider angle. What I hear you saying is, “Having sex before marriage, not a big deal.” What I hear Rachel saying is, “Examine the totality of your sexuality and see how that fits into context.”

        Except that that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that we need a sexual ethic based on consent and respect, yes, a whole-life sexual ethic, not something focused on any one act or what one can or can’t do when. I’m not arguing that people should or shouldn’t have sex before marriage, or after, or whatever, I’m saying that one’s sexual decisions should be based on things like consent and respect, not on what and when.

        In that same regard, you, whether you acknowledge it or not, are still saying, “Let’s address the rules. The rules need to change.” What Rachel is saying is, “Self-reflection will help you live out a healthy sexuality. There is not a single standard that will apply to all people.”

        Out of curiosity, what in Rachel’s post do you interpret as saying that? Because that’s certainly not what I saw when I read her post. I absolutely agree with self-reflection and I don’t think there is a single standard—indeed, consent-based and respect-based sexual ethics automatically mean there is no single standard on when to have sex, or what kind of sex, etc.—but I don’t read Rachel as saying that at all.

      • http://lifeandtimesofmrlove.blogspot.com/ James Love

        First off, let me apologize for one thing. I didn’t notice we were on the atheist part of the site, so I guess I assumed we were working from the same vantage point here. So, any overtly Christian assumption I made, sorry for that.

        However in that same regard, the idea of holiness that Rachel used is the grounding for how I read her:

        “Perhaps instead of virginity…or even purity (which carries something of an either/or connotation, I think)…we ought to talk about the path of holiness. Holiness, to me, means committing every area of my life— from sex, to food, to time, to work—to the lordship of Jesus. It means asking how I might love God and love my neighbors in those areas so that the Spirit can grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in the sacred soil of everyday life.

        Holiness isn’t about sticking to a list of rules. It isn’t something you either have or don’t have, keep or lose. It’s a way of life, filled with twists and turns, mistakes and growth, uncertainty and reward. And, (to make matters even worse for the fundamentalists), a holy lifestyle often looks different from person to person, though the fruit of the Spirit is the same.”

        This little passage and the following about the path and way are where I read into the blogpost. I admit it, I read into words that aren’t there, because she and I are working from a similar vantage point. When I see this kind of talk, I know where she is going. I know that she has removed herself from just talking about sex & marriage to the over all topical of holiness.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Most people in this country are Christians. I have no problem with someone therefore assuming I’m one too, until they know otherwise—no offense taken.

        But given what you said, how do you explain Rachel’s very first paragraph?

        Because we’ve spent a good deal of time here discussing the harmful effects of a shame-based purity culture that treats people who have had sex before marriage as “damaged goods” by comparing them to polluted water or chewed-up gum (see “Do Christians Idolize Virginity?” and “Elizabeth Smart, Human Trafficking, and Purity Culture”), some have wrongly concluded that I don’t value saving sex for marriage

        That doesn’t sound at all like she has removed herself from talking about sex and marriage.

      • James

        To that I would say talking about it and talking exclusively about it are different things. In your first response you said:

        “Her entire post is an affirmation that she still believes sex should be saved for marriage”

        I would say that is pretty radically different statement than:

        “That doesn’t sound at all like she has removed herself from talking about sex and marriage.”

        I think the word “entire” is what caused my response. I will gladly cede that, yes, she is talking about marriage and sex, but it isn’t the exclusive or even primary goal–that would be holiness. I think her post is along the lines of pursuing sexual wholeness/holiness and part of that is the marriage question.

        So, yes, I agree that she is addressing sex and marriage, but I don’t see it as the ending point of her argument.
        (and now a quick apology…having trouble logging in, but this is still the same james)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yes, she speaks of a “path of holiness” but it seems pretty clear to me that she is also saying that following the “path of holiness” will lead a person to save sex for marriage, especially in light of the quotes she chose to support her case. She also repeated some pretty offensive assumptions about people who have pre-marital sex, such as that they lack self-control, expect “sex on demand” or believe that “anything goes.”

        The takeaway, obscured as it is in vague language, is that if you are really holy you will wait. If you do not wait you are less holy. Pure, holy, tomato, to-mah-to. She is making the same old purity culture arguments while claiming to argue against purity culture. Different words doesn’t change that.

      • http://lifeandtimesofmrlove.blogspot.com/ James Love

        There is this song I like called “In the Waiting Line.” I was talking to my friend Andrew about it and said that everytime I hear it, it makes me want to try pot. He looked at me and said, “You’re bringing that to the music man.”
        In a comment that I tried to post earlier, I admitted that as Christian with a certain bent, I brought some things to Rachel’s article. I filled in gaps, and I think you are doing the same. I don’t think she equates having sex before marriage as having a complete lack of self-control. I think she is referring to all things.

        What I do see though is that participating in a consumerist culture the more we feed an appetite the more it wants. That goes with sex, food, money, power. So, I think what she is saying is that it is good to cultivate self-control. And admittedly she is going to come down on the no sex before marriage. But I could see you using her arguments and coming down on a different side of the coin. A self-examined life is what she promotes. And if you are living in that regard, you determine (albeit in your own mind) what is good/bad for you.
        But thanks for challenging me on that. I can get pretty short-sighted especially after moving to Alabama!!!

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        What I still don’t understand is why self-control has to be linked to the premarital sex/marital sex divide. You say “admittedly she is going to come down on the no sex before marriage.” But why? You yourself admit that these same arguments can go another direction. Why doesn’t she go that direction? I was raised in the purity culture, and the prohibition on sex before marriage is something I greatly regret. Yes, you read that right—I regret not having had more sex before getting married. Rachel is right that the idolization of virginity hurts people, but I think this emphasis on waiting till marriage, especially when combined with the idea that self control means waiting until marriage (and not waiting till marriage means you lack self control—and that is what the blogger she quotes approvingly says straight out), is harmful too.

        As for filling in the gaps, I’ve been an evangelical and a progressive Christian. You’re not coming at this with some sort of special knowledge I don’t have, and I’m not missing something you see. I understand what you’re saying Rachel is saying, but that doesn’t line up with the actual text, especially with her firm statement that she still believes that sex should be saved for marriage.

      • http://lifeandtimesofmrlove.blogspot.com/ James Love

        To that all I can answer is that she holds to her belief system. Whe she uses self-examination that is where she lands on the issue. When you look at your life you determined that more sex at a younger age would have been a better thing. I’m not gonna judge you for that decision, because as you pointed out…that is where you come down on the issue.
        I think anytime you are dealing with those of us belonging to some religious sect, we have this overarching system that feeds into what we do and don’t believe. Since you were Evangelical, since you were progressive Christian…you know those structures. You know how difficult it is to naviagate those waters with reason, rationality and analytical data. There are some things that just trump good old empirical thought. I’ll be the first to admit it is irrational.
        But I hope you don’t give up on people like me. It takes us a while to struggle through long-held beliefs. Some of us want to change, but just don’t know how, or just get hung up on this or that detail. Thanks again for the dialogue. Could I ask you some other atheism questions at some point? You have been one of the least antagonistic atheists I have met.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Thanks again for the dialogue. Could I ask you some other atheism questions at some point? You have been one of the least antagonistic atheists I have met.

        For sure!

      • stacey

        There are lots of us out there (not antagonistic atheists), but not many as eloquent as Libby.

      • The_L1985

        Whereabouts in Alabama? I lived there for most of my life! :)

        As for the idea that “the more we feed an appetite the more it wants” applying to sex, I can wholeheartedly say NO, or at least not universally. When I was between boyfriends, I would masturbate A LOT (sometimes daily), but when I was in a monogamous sexual relationship with a boyfriend, I was totally satisfied with weekly sex. If your analogy were true of sex, then having “the real thing” should have made me want to have sex more often, not less!

  • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

    It seems to me that there are two important questions that are sidestepped amidst talk of consent and self-control:

    1.) Should we conform our behaviors to the designs of God?
    2.) Has God designed/commanded sex to be experienced exclusively within the context of marriage?

    How we answer these questions are, in my opinion, fundamental to how how we approach sexuality. It seems like many progressive Christians have had such a negative experience with “because God says so” sex-shaming that we’re hesitant to even consider whether or not God says so.

    • MrRoivas

      For non Christians, what does this have to do with the price of dildos in China?

      • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

        Absolutely nothing. But RHE is writing about a Christian sexual ethic.

    • The_L1985

      Indeed. Also, a lot of Christians would say “yes” to 1 but “no” to 2.

      Furthermore, to those of us who aren’t Christian (and since LJF is an atheist blog, there are a lot of us), what YHWH wants is irrelevant because he either doesn’t exist (from an atheist perspective) or is simply not the deity one is aligned with (from a Pagan perspective).

      I want Christians to follow Jesus’s teachings, because that fulfills their religion. But that doesn’t mean that I automatically want to follow everything that Jesus taught, because I, personally, am not a Christian.

  • enuma

    Expecting marriage to fix all the potential pitfalls of sex is like me expecting a gym membership to fix all the potential pitfalls of my fondness for certain foods. It might help, but it might not. Some people hold gym memberships for years without ever setting foot on a treadmill. Other people exercise regularly without ever joining a gym. If I tell myself that I’ll stay a healthy weight if I avoid buying ice cream until after I join a gym, but that after I join a gym I can eat all the ice cream I want, I shouldn’t be surprised if I end up becoming overweight. The time spent completely avoiding the thing I wanted didn’t give me more self-control. All I really did was miss opportunities to learn moderation.

  • VorJack

    I think RHE has moved into the realm of virtue ethics. She’s no longer asking whether it’s right or wrong to have sex outside of marriage. She’s asking whether a given acts will cultivate the virtue she calls “holiness”. Does having sex outside of marriage help one to develop an openness to the will of God?

    Of course, the problem for an atheist is “what’s the will of God?” It may be worth noting that to the early Christians this holiness meant complete celibacy and poverty. She not going to go that far.

  • Gary Hinchman

    Why No Premarital Sex in an Age that Wants to Justify Sin On Every Side?

    Why? Because the Bible says so. Why? Because the Prophets of the OT say so. Why? Because Jesus says so. Why? Because the apostles of Jesus say so. Why? Because you cannot be faithful to the Word of God in Christ and ignore the reality of it.

    Because of the “one flesh union” God created “from the beginning” according to Jesus and importance of not defiling faithfulness to such a union, which the Bible upholds throughout. One Man/One Woman is the biblical “ideal,” even if mankind does not live it out faithfully, because it exalts “faithfulness in relationship” in a mental, emotional, volitional AS WELL AS physical sexual relationship. Malachi warns Israel of God’s perspective and Israel’s disrespect for the one flesh relationship and their breaking of it in the context of God’s statement “I hate divorce.” Commitment to a one flesh sexual relationship is from God himself and upheld by Jesus himself in Matthew 19. TO ignore this is simply to justify sexual unfaithfulness which is to justify impurity in faithful one flesh relationships which the Bible upholds throughout as a physical representation of our spiritual dynamic with God Himself.

    Gen 2:23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”
    Gen 2:24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
    Gen 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

    Mat 19:4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,
    Mat 19:5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?
    Mat 19:6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

    Mal 2:14 “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
    Mal 2:15 “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.
    Mal 2:16 “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
    Mal 2:17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,”

    1Co 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!
    1Co 6:16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”
    1Co 6:17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
    1Co 6:18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

    1Th 4:1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.
    1Th 4:2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
    1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
    1Th 4:4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
    1Th 4:5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God

    Why? Because the justification of sin is evil. Why? Because to call evil good and good evil in relation to sexual purity brings great “Woe” on mankind.

    • MrRoivas

      This ain’t Sunday preacher. We aren’t interested.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      So you’re saying that premarital sex is evil . . . because God said so. I’m sorry, but I find your ethical system morally abhorrent.

      • The_L1985

        Indeed. People can tell us to do all kinds of things that aren’t right, or forbid us from doing things that are harmless.

        My mother never allowed us to chew gum at home–not because gum-chewing is immoral, but because she didn’t like the stuff and didn’t want us to make a mess with it.

        Likewise, if a stranger tells me to get in his car–why on earth should I obey that? He’s obviously trying to kidnap me so that he can rape and/or murder me!

    • Baby_Raptor

      Prove your god exists. Then prove that I should care about what he says.

      • The_L1985

        Indeed. Even if this fellow’s idea of what God is like exists, all that proves is that he worships a homicidal monster.

    • The_L1985

      “An Age that Wants to Justify Sin On Every Side?”

      First of all, why on earth are you Capitalizing Random Words, Gary? Secondly, nobody is trying to justify robbery or murder, so we’re hardly justifying wrong-doing “on every side.” We just hold different opinions on whether certain sex acts are moral or immoral. (Note that because we have this difference of opinion, we are not condoning any acts that we, ourselves, believe to be immoral!)

      Thirdly, and I know this may be hard for you to grasp, but LJF is an atheist blog written by an atheist, and many of her regular readers are not Christian.

      I’ve read your Bible a lot. It says not one word about whether or not it is OK for two people who are not married or engaged to have consensual sex. The only thing that comes close is a law regarding the rape of a virgin woman by a man. Rape, by definition, is not consensual.

      Also, there is no such thing as “emotional purity,” as Libby Anne herself has said numerous times.

      • MissMikey

        Coming in late to the discussion, but it always amuses me when Christians come to an atheist blog and spout out proof texts and (presumably) think that will accomplish something.

    • Stev84

      The whole concept of sin (which more often than not amounts to thoughtcrime) is absurd to begin with.

      • The_L1985

        I only use the word at all when a Christian tells me to stop doing something zie considers sinful, and I respond, “I don’t believe that X is a sin.”

    • Lynn

      Where in all those verses does it prohibit premarital sex?

  • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

    I read both of these articles and I think you make some excellent points, but I would respectfully suggest that I’m not sure that you fully responded to RHE’s underlying point on holiness. I think holiness means attaining the perfection of God, and it’s a good thing because I believe it was the way we were meant to live, in constant communion with our maker. And I think the path does involve some self-denial along the way, because our innate inclinations are often inherently self-focused and not God- or other-focused.

    You cite some ways you practice self-denial already (eating healthfully, being a good steward of your money, etc.), and I agree those are very good things. But, with respect, you are not perfect, and neither am I. I don’t in any way believe our pursuit of holiness should be shame-based, but I also don’t think it should ever be perceived (in this life) to have ended.

    That being said, if you are — out of devotion to the lord and a personal decision to show gratitude to him — honestly seeking his holiness, and believe a committed, consensual and respectful relationship with another person does not impede that, I say more power to you.

    • tsara

      Libby Anne’s an atheist, just FYI.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        Oh, OK. I thought she was a progressive Christian, but I see you are correct, and I was mistaken. That does make more sense :) Thanks!

      • tsara

        no problem. (Sorry for being a bit short; I’m at work.)

    • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

      Holiness is an ill-defined concept and meaningless for people who don’t believe in god or the supernatural.

      Also, even more preposterous than the idea of god existing is the idea that he gives a flying rat’s ass about what I do or don’t do with my boyfriend.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        Thanks for your response. I meant no offense. I agree holiness is difficult to define and, as I’ve described it, probably wouldn’t make much sense to those who don’t believe in God. I’m not sure I would go so far as to agree holiness is “meaningless” for them though, simply because I do have some atheist friends who appreciate the sense of the “sacred” that certain things or places hold for believers even if they don’t share their beliefs.

        I also appreciate your second point, which you made so eloquently. I obviously don’t expect you to agree with me if you don’t believe in the same God that I do, but I’m of the opinion that our bodies and our sex lives are very important to us and they’re also important to God. Thanks again for responding to my thoughts.

      • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

        You think I haven’t been in a really similar place to the one you’re coming from? I have. I was raised religious, and now I’m an atheist.

        That doesn’t mean I’m not human, and therefore don’t feel things like awe, respect and love. I dislike using religious terminology (words like “holiness”) to describe the things/people for which I feel awe, respect and love. I believe it cheapens their reality. It casts them in a supernatural light, and takes away from their impact. So while I can feel at peace and derive great emotional satisfaction from works of art, beautiful natural landscapes, etc., I will not call it “holy” or “sacred.”

        And it’s not that I don’t believe in the same God that you do. It’s that I don’t believe in any god(s), and I have moved past the point where I’m going to be polite about it (hence my colorful and “eloquent” phrasing).

        I don’t disagree that our bodies and sex lives are extremely important to us. We’re human. This is part of our social nature, and it’s pretty damn fun. And of course being human, we should adhere to ethics regarding our sexuality, like obtaining enthusiastic and informed consent, treating people well, having open and honest communication with them and caring about their feelings.

        God is not a necessary component of any of these things.

      • “Rebecca”

        Possibly relevant: http://imgur.com/e9DJjCo

      • The_L1985

        Yeah, that just makes the whole idea that a deity cares WRT harmless forms of sexual expression even more ridiculous.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      While I grew up in an evangelical church, I’m an atheist today, but I’ll answer this anyway. The problem, as I see it, is that premarital sex gets packaged differently. It seems to me that holiness ought to be about showing others love and respect and balancing our own needs and desires with the needs and desires of others. So what I don’t understand is how a prohibition of premarital sex gets mixed up in this. There is nothing about premarital sex that is disrespectful to the individual, or unloving, but there is lots about coerced sex, whether it’s rape or simple manipulation, that is unloving and disrespectful. So why not focus on building a consent-based sexual ethics that focuses on showing each other love and respect, whether within marriage or outside of marriage? Why instead turn it into a “have self control and abstain before marriage” and then “you’re married now you get sex” dichotomy? I don’t see anything about that dichotomy that represents either holiness or working toward perfection or coming closer to God, but I see lots about a consent-based, respect-based sexual ethic that does represent those things. I would love to see Rachel Held Evans take the conversation in that direction.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        Hi, thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond to my comment! I definitely see where you’re coming from, believe me. I’ve wondered myself what sort of mystical spell takes place during an hour-long wedding ceremony that magically transforms something “sinful” into something really good and completely not sinful. My short response is I don’t really believe that’s how it works, and, though I can’t speak for them, I don’t think that’s what Rachel Held Evans or the other blogger she quoted were saying.

        I agree that we evangelical Christians do need a better underlying sexual ethic rather than just focusing on “marriage,” because the word doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as it did throughout the Old Testament or during the New Testament. I think we would do well to acknowledge that more often.

        In Jesus, I think we see someone who was almost always more concerned with a person’s heart and internal desires than their outward actions. I agree that the “dichotomy” you mention would not bring an individual closer to holiness, if abstinence is practiced only to serve an arbitrary rule. On the other hand, if someone chooses to delay sex specifically out of a desire to draw closer to God and his holiness, I think that’s a different thing.

        And though I don’t think people necessarily need to abstain from sex for a period of time in order to recognize and respect it for the gift that it is, I believe abstinence could also have that benefit. Like, to use a different example, I don’t fast anymore because my doctor discouraged it, but when I did, it definitely helped me appreciate the gift and blessing that food is more than I had before.

      • Joykins

        Consent and respect as a basis for sexual ethics strike me as holding the bar too low. Not that it’s bad but it strikes me as the “decent human minimum” without other things as well.

      • tsara

        What else would you suggest? What else matters?

      • Joykins

        from my story (part of the “raised Evangelical” series). As in most ethics, there’s a bare legal minimum and there’s an ideal IMO. “I believe sexual relations should be among mature people, engaged in as safely and responsibly as possible, and be affectionate and loving and ideally in a committed relationship. It is a lot of fun but it’s also serious. If you aren’t willing to deal with the negative consequences of sex (STDs, unplanned pregnancy) with your partner, you need to think about whether you should be having sex with them. I think sex-is-for marriage is a kind of dumbed down version of this.”

      • tsara

        My view of sex (also sort of quoting from myself elsewhere):
        Sex is an activity that many people like to do because it is fun. It has many benefits and many drawbacks, and so proper caution should be exercised before, during, and after engaging in it and everyone should have the knowledge and ability to make free and fully informed decisions at all points.
        Some people consider it to be very special and intimate; others don’t. Neither view is inherently better or worse than the other, as long as both (or all) parties engaging in sexual acts together (or otherwise involved) have communicated their views and decided that any differences are resolvable and it’s worth participating anyway.

        EDIT: More to the point for this discussion, I see no benefit to restricting sex to affectionate, loving, and committed relationships.
        EDIT II: It may clarify some things to substitute ‘virtue in’ for ‘benefit to’ in my first edit.

      • Wren

        Why is “in a committed relationship” an ideal?

      • Joykins

        Because sex is a type of intimacy and works best when reinforcing other kinds of intimacy, love, and trust.

      • tsara

        [citation needed]

        EDIT: and/or a definition of ‘works best’.

      • Joykins

        Not a fair request; I could cite Dobson ;)

      • The_L1985

        For many people, it is. I agree that those people should wait until they’re in a committed relationship to have sex.

        I’m personally one of those who gets emotionally attached if I have sex, so I know that one-night stands are wrong for me. However, not everybody is able to extrapolate out and recognize that one-night stands are not wrong for everybody.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Please explain what benefit I gain from having sex with a person I’m in a relationship with as compared to a person I’m not.

        Please explain what changes based on that factor alone, that’s apparently so big and important that all “ideal” sex should only happen in a relationship.

      • Joykins

        I didn’t say that all “ideal” sex should only happen in a relationship. If there’s even “ideal” sex out there, which I doubt.

        I said that sex ideally happens in a committed relationship. That doesn’t mean other kinds of sex can’t be hot or pleasurable or even harmless. It means when things go wrong or weird or fertile or disease-transmitting with sex (and they do! I have had enough of it to know!) you know the other person is going to be there for you (and in many cases your shared offspring) through good and bad.*

        *not to confuse “marriage” with “committed relationship” because I have seen marriages where the people turned out not to be committed.

      • Joykins

        I should probably add, that any useful ethical system has a place for “evil”, “acceptable”, and “ideal” rather than “good”/”evil” as situations warrant. Sexuality is a *cough* ideal case for a lot of “accepbtable” scenarios.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      The thing is, the idea that people who have pre-marital sex don’t ever practice “self-denial” is absurd. I’m in my twenties, have been sexually active since college and never married so pre-marital sex is the only kind I’ve had. There are numerous times where I have chosen not to have sex, even when there was mutual attraction and interest, because I felt like it would be wrong–say, if I felt like the other person only wanted to because they were feeling vulnerable for some reason, and so sleeping with them would be exploitation, or if I felt like I did not have the same strength of feelings for the other person as he felt for me. (Others have said “no” to me for reasons like these too.) Or if one or both of us was in a monogamous relationship and so having sex would be cheating. Most of us non-Christian people (I’m a progressive Jew, just FYI) who take pre-marital sex for granted have experiences like this and take for granted that, of course there are moral considerations to weigh when you decide whether or not to have sex and that sometimes adhering to them will mean that you don’t get to do what you want to do. That would be very clear if evangelicals ever decided to talk to us and not about us. But this seems to happen frustratingly rarely, given the bubble that so many have built up for themselves.

      And this isn’t even going into the issue of consent!–as in not having sex with people because they DON’T want to, or are not ready to have sex with you, which would be, you know, rape. Rape, a topic that progressive and feminists, most of whom do not oppose pre-marital sex and probably engage in it themselves, talk about tirelessly! We spend a hell of a lot of time talking about how anything does not go, a lot of time talking about sexual morality, generally with not much help from the evangelical community, let me tell you. Not only that, but RHE has frequently repeated feminist/progressive rhetoric in making her own arguments against purity culture. So it would be awfully nice if she would do us the courtesy of not characterizing us as amoral libertines who have no concept of sexual ethics even as she herself makes use of the sexual ethics that we are working hard to promote in her own writing.

      I think I’m allowed to be a little mad about that.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        Yeah, I think your feelings of resentment are perfectly justified. For the record, I think it’s ridiculous and immoral that the Christian establishment has not fought harder against the culture of not only rape but victimizing and shaming women in many other ways. I have seen some men in the church who were not part of that, of course, but unfortunately more prevalent (or maybe just louder) have been those who ignore or even make light of the efforts (as you note, mostly by progressives and feminists) to shine a light on these profoundly negative behaviors.

        I certainly don’t believe any person is incapable of exhibiting self-control or a strong moral center without holding certain religious beliefs. But as for what I was trying to say about seeking holiness, I don’t think it’s something that would make sense for someone who doesn’t believe in God. I think holiness only makes sense and, really is only in line with the Bible, when it’s a personal choice an individual strives toward out of love, devotion and gratitude to the lord. Christians trying to extrinsically impose holiness on others has created a lot of problems, and there are many teachings throughout the New Testament that would seem to discourage such an approach (e.g. Romans 2 and 14 and Matthew 7).

      • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

        And many teachings that would seem to encourage it as well. The Bible is full of inconsistencies.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        I’m not sure I can think of any Bible passages that could be reasonably interpreted as encouraging Christians to attempt to impose holy living on those who don’t share their faith or specific beliefs. But I would be interested if you had any in mind.

      • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

        “Reasonably interpreted.” That gives you plenty of wiggle room to reject whatever I submit, doesn’t it?

        Okay. I feel silly even referencing Bible verses, since to me it seems like arguing about the “rules” of the Harry Potter universe, only less fun and engaging. And given that the actions of Christian majority in the U.S. amount to imposing “holy living” on people of different or no faith, I’m not sure that their justifications even matter.

        There are lots of Bible verses about killing unbelievers, which is an imposition if there ever was one. And there are plenty where God threatens to do the dirty work himself (a la Sodom and Gomorrah) if the people being proselytized to aren’t receptive.

        1 Corinthians 11:3-10 – But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman [is] the man; and the head of Christ [is] God.

        Authoritarian and sexist. Nice.

        Matthew 10: 14-15 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

        Again with the threat of total destruction.

        Mark 16:16 – He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

        This is just a threat of eternal torture. Better or worse?

        Matthew 28:19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

        Isn’t that fairly direct?

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        “Reasonably interpreted.” That gives you plenty of wiggle room to reject whatever I submit, doesn’t it?

        Well, yeah. Obviously you can make virtually any text say virtually anything if you there’s no means of judging or qualifying the interpretations. I used the verbiage I did because it’s in line with legal terminology (as I understand it), not to “wiggle” out of anything.

        And given that the actions of Christian majority in the U.S. amount to imposing “holy living” on people of different or no faith, I’m not sure that their justifications even matter.

        But this was precisely the point I was trying to make: That yes, many Christians do seem to be attempting to foist holiness on others externally, despite the fact that (in my opinion) there’s little or no biblical basis for doing so, and plenty of teachings that say the opposite.

        1 Corinthians 11:3-10 – But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman [is] the man; and the head of Christ [is] God.

        Authoritarian and sexist. Nice.

        I think I can understand why you don’t like this passage, but I don’t think it supports your notion of unwelcome teachings being forced on unbelievers. Paul is writing to Christians here, so his audience is, theoretically, people who have accepted Christ as their savior and are seeking his plan for our lives. As Jesus spoke about in John 13 (for example), part of that plan for believers is that we serve and lovingly submit to one another.

        I’ve always interpreted passages like this and Ephesians 5 (which, by the way, says in verse 21 that all Christians, regardless of gender, are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”; some complementarians seem fond of leaving that out) as sort of like mathematical equations that don’t work if all the pieces aren’t there. So, yes, a wife may be called to submit to her husband, but her husband is called to submit himself entirely to the lordship of Christ (which, as I already said, involves a whole lot of selflessly loving, sacrificing and serving others, including his wife of course).

        I know some Christian men have long tried to twist passages like this, but I would not affirm it as biblical for a women to “submit” to a husband who is abusive or controlling or otherwise not following the model of Christ. To do so would be allowing a scumbag to make a mockery of the truth.

        Matthew 10: 14-15 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

        Again with the threat of total destruction.

        This doesn’t really seem to support your point at all; it appears to be much more in line with what I was saying (that Christians should not impose a life on those who do not want or welcome it). Yes, Christians believe God is sovereign and has the final judgment over our eternal fate. But, based on scripture, I don’t believe we are called to be part of making that judgment or enacting it upon others.

        Mark 16:16 – He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

        This is just a threat of eternal torture. Better or worse?

        Matthew 28:19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

        Isn’t that fairly direct?

        In my opinion, the one from Matthew is the strongest passage you have presented to support your case, but I would still argue that “teaching” people what Jesus said is a far cry from imposing a code of conduct upon them. This is from the so-called “great commission” at the end of Matthew. Mark also contains a commission at the end, which you have also quoted and I think is helpful to understanding it.

        We are called to teach about Christ. If anyone chooses to accept those beliefs, we welcome them with the sacrament of baptism. If they choose to reject what we believe to be true, we understand that to be their prerogative and we drop the matter. But, regardless of what anyone else believes, I don’t see why Christians think they should ignore the teachings of passages like 1 Thessalonians 4, which exhorts us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

        Sorry this was so long. I do appreciate the opportunity for discussion. If you’d like to talk more, you can feel free to email me at tyler@godofevolution.com. Thanks!

      • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

        Well, this was about as fruitful as I expected it to be.

        I acknowledge your offer for further discussion, but I will not be taking you up on it.

        What’s the point? I reject your entire premise. I don’t have the energy to go back and forth with you over a text that is pretty much completely irrelevant to my life except for when people use it as an excuse to force their standards on me or take away my rights.

      • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

        K. I offered only because I didn’t want to further hijack the discussion on this article.

        I don’t have the energy to go back and forth with you over a text that is pretty much completely irrelevant to my life except for when people use it as an excuse to force their standards on me or take away my rights.

        You and I agree that these people you allude to here are wrong. My only point was that I think you were incorrect in saying the Bible commands them to act in such a way. I wish you the very best.

  • tsara

    A question about abstinence: Definitionally, it means restraining oneself from indulgence. I’m asexual and uninterested in having any sex. Am I abstaining? Does it count if I’m not suffering?

    • Olive Markus

      I posed that question to Frank last week when he claimed that if you’re asexual, then celibacy doesn’t count. Of course I received no intelligent reply after that. I’m genuinely fascinated by the answers to this one, because if the answer is “NO, you must want sex in order to make celibacy matter” then that simply means that Christian sexual ethics depends entirely on the idea that one must be suffering in order to be “holy.” And that’s not awesome.

      Sorry, I haven’t had any coffee today. I’m even more sloppy than normal :).

      • tsara

        Yep. Where’s the self control in resisting something I’d rather avoid? What benefit do I gain from not having sex?
        (Although, to be fair, I do masturbate occasionally. But going to eat a bar of chocolate instead of masturbating is like watching one decent TV show (accompanied by a small endorphin rush) instead of another decent TV show (accompanied by a similar endorphin rush), so it’s still valid.)

        EDIT: And on that note, I’m going to go eat a bar of chocolate. In the office. In front of everyone.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        o.0 kinky!

      • tsara

        And I shared the chocolate with my coworkers!
        :D

      • Joykins

        I guess it counts as abstaining if you abstain from chocolate then :)

      • tsara

        It’s a bit more complicated than that, because I also have an eating disorder (food intake yesterday: 2 squares of Lindt milk chocolate, half an orange, 4 oz. 1% milk, 16 oz. unsweetened black coffee, 1 cereal/protein/meal replacement bar, and water), and because I can’t marry a chocolate bar, and because I get a similar endorphin rush from doing exercise.

      • The_L1985

        Chocolate orgy! JEZEBEL!!

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I get what you’re saying- that Evans doesn’t come to a very clear conclusion on what “sexual ethics” should be. But I think her post comes from a point of view where she’s totally rejecting purity culture, but then isn’t sure what to do next. (Which is kind of where I am, so I liked her post.)

    Purity culture presents this false dichotomy (the virgin/whore thing) where virginity is the only reason to not have sex, so once you’ve had sex, there’s no reason to not just sleep with everyone, etc… so people coming out of purity culture probably still believe the alternative is “yay whatever anything goes”- and this is the audience Evans is addressing- saying there are other things that should matter in our sexual ethics besides virginity, and that sex shouldn’t be treated like it’s some crazy big deal that gets treated completely separately from the rest of our lives.

    She DOESN’T believe the virgin/whore dichotomy is true, but needs to address it a lot because it’s very much emphasized in purity culture, and probably a lot of her audience was taught that/ still subconsciously thinks that way.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      She DOESN’T believe the virgin/whore dichotomy is true, but needs to address it a lot because it’s very much emphasized in purity culture, and probably a lot of her audience was taught that/ still subconsciously thinks that way.

      Then why does she do it by throwing the whore under the bus rather than actually dismantling the dichotomy using consensual sexual ethics?

      • Kate Monster

        It seems like she’s just rephrasing the virgin/whore dichotomy, not rejecting it. It’s not virgin/whore anymore. It’s virgin/person with no self control. There’s still a stigma attached–and maybe an even more insidious one. It’s obvious that the virgin/whore dichotomy is BS. Anyone who’s met actual human women can see that. But by reframing it as a conversation about self-control, it provides the same means to shame and constrain other peoples’ behavior while seeming … friendlier than the fire and brimstone alternative.

  • Flora

    But Evangelical culture explicitly encourages kids to get married fast and young so that they can “safely” have sex! Isn’t that a far WORSE demonstration of self-control because it has lifetime implications? Isn’t promising your life to someone you barely know because you really want to have sex irresponsible and disingenuous? To imply that it is somehow better to make rash life-altering decisions under the influence of a profound biological drive than it is to acknowledge that mutually consenting safe sex feels good and go for it… I’m flabbergasted.

    If you shouldn’t go grocery shopping while hungry because you will make bad decisions, then surely it is an even worse to get married while sexually driven to do so.

    • Jakeithus

      You do raise an important point. The idea in evangelical culture that people should marry young to avoid the temptation of premarital sex is a harmful idea, and shouldn’t be pushed on youth and young adults. In my opinion, divorce is far more harmful than premarital sex, and entering marriage with the wrong mindset is to be avoided at all costs.

      Of course, the idea that sex is too powerful of an urge to resist, therefor marry young or just go ahead and give in, is not necessarily true. True self-control, like RHE discusses in her piece, rejects both outcomes in favour of something else.

    • “Rebecca”

      This horrible idea is even reinforced Biblically- “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” 1 Corinthians 7:9
      Lifetime celibacy is actually the prescribed New Testament model, but that doesn’t seem to be a popular opinion among Evangelicals for some reason. Maybe because it’s even harder to make a fun rally out of “We’re never having sex ever!” than “We’re waiting ’til marriage!”

    • Alice

      It is a lot worse! But fundies believe “compatibility” is a concept made by divorcees & feminists, and “Love is a choice, never a feeling. God cares about your holiness, not your happiness.” So from that perspective, all you need to do is find the nearest unattached Christian of the opposite sex who has a pulse. The Bible was written when marriage was a business transaction and a necessity, often arranged by the parents. Fundies often live in the past.

  • Gillianren

    In my faith, the nonmarital sex I have with a loving, consenting partner is also holy. It’s holy because it’s an expression of how we feel about each other and the commitment we have toward one another. It’s a celebration of our relationship. But that doesn’t matter, because the only “holy” we’re supposed to be enshrining is Christian holiness, and I’m not Christian. And my boyfriend isn’t anything, so I doubt he cares about the holiness of sex one way or another.

    As to self-control, well, I can have sex with my boyfriend and still have self control. For one thing, we do actually do other things; sometimes, we’d rather just stay at home and fool around, but we have obligations that mean we can’t, and we follow through on those obligations. Neither of us would fool around with someone else without consulting each other, because that isn’t fair to the relationship, either. We control ourselves just fine, even though we aren’t married and aren’t likely to be any time soon.

  • fencerman

    If she just stuck to “there’s something good about self denial, fasting, or abstaining from things you want, just don’t get too hung up on it”, she’d have a reasonable argument. People should learn to delay gratification, and not feel anxiety about it; it’s good practice for every part of life, whether you’re spiritual or not. Gluttony in all areas seems to be glorified, whether it’s an insatiable appetite for sex, food, alcohol, etc…

    She makes two major mistakes, firstly by emphasizing the sexual kind of abstention as privileged somehow, and the second is arbitrarily drawing a line between pre-marriage and post-marriage. By privileging sexual abstention, it dredges up all the toxic taboos and biases that poison healthy attitudes towards bodies and relationships. And drawing a line between pre- and post- marriage just repeats the same problems as all purity culture stories. Besides – if you don’t get used to delaying sexual gratification after marriage, either you or your spouse is likely to feel either overly pressured, or denied, since no two people have exactly the same sex drive.

    One angle she seems to have missed – what’s the spiritual gain to someone who doesn’t feel sexual desire? There are a lot of asexual people out there. Should they feel proud of themselves for abstaining from something they don’t even want? It would be more of a chore for them to go out and have sex.

    • Joykins

      I don’t think anybody is tempted to ALL things that Christians consider “sins”, so we all get a free “slam dunk” on something. We all also have our own faults and bad habits to work on. No sense in appropriating other people’s issues when we all have our own.

  • Ryan

    I think ultimately, if sex is permissible outside of marriage comes
    down to this: “Consensual, safe sex does not operate at anyone’s expense or
    cause anyone harm.” -taken from the article.

    If this statement is true then I can understand what the author of this article is arguing for. Her argument makes sense with this assumption. However, I don’t think this truth claim is true, and I doubt Rachel Held Evans believes it is true. This is really where the argument lays.

    There are a lot of underlying assumptions to that claim. The most obvious is that no child will result from this sex act. If a child results, then there is a lot of cost involved for the mother and child (the father has more freedom to opt out). Birth control is not always 100% effective. Abortion comes with costs (the degree of the costs is debatable, but at the least it causes significant emotional distress for the mother).

    Another assumption is that there is no difference in a consensual relationship between unmarried and married people. In our society this seems to be unfortunately becoming true, but doesn’t have to be. Marriage can actually be a real lasting and loving commitment to the partner in a way that simple words or promises or consentuality does not achieve. A devaluing of what marriage can be is necessary for the claim above.

    Birth control technology within the last 50 years has made “consensual, safe sex” less costly for partners than it used to be. However, it is a glorified fantasy to think that there is no risk and no cost involved to consensual sexual partners.

    • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

      Hiking costs me time, energy and money, and I risk injury or death while hiking in certain areas and at certain heights. So is it wrong for me to do it, if I prepare ahead of time, have the appropriate gear, accept the costs of time, energy and money as well as the risk that I might get hurt or killed?

      • Ryan

        Marriage in its fuller sense is supposed to help with managing the risks, helping you prepare, having the appropriate gear, and accepting the costs. Marriage is not just a private commitment of mutual consent. It is a commitment made publicly within the context of a community. This community is there to help with the preparation and costs. The marriage commitment is a legal and public commitment with greater accountability, therefore better at managing the risks than the private promise of a partner.

        Unfortunately, within our culture, we are losing this communal aspect to marriage.

      • The_L1985

        “Unfortunately, within our culture, we are losing this communal aspect to marriage.”

        No, we’re losing the idea of community in general. You’d never have heard of anyone trying to dismantle Medicare or Social Security 10 years ago, but now it’s being seriously discussed.

      • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

        Bullshit. Marriage is a state of being. It’s a formal acknowledgement of a relationship between two people.

        The only way marriage does any of the things you mention is if the two people involved are educated, emotionally mature, and one or both of them have jobs.

        And regardless of what you believe the role of the community to be in a private marriage, what bearing does that have on whether or not the people involved had sex before they were married?

        Hint: No bearing whatsoever.

    • http://geekinthebreeze.wordpress.com mythbri

      Additionally, there’s one particular national park whose trails I know really well. If I were to become certified as a trail guide, would that magically make me immune from having to have proper gear? Would I somehow no longer be at risk of injury or death just because I have a piece of paper that says I know what I’m doing?

      What about the activity itself changes?

      • tsara

        Also, if you were to become certified as a trail guide for that national park, I’d assume you’d already been on those trails.

    • Anat

      There are risks in almost anything worth doing. The risk-free life is not worth living. Some risks are worth taking, especially if the risk can be mitigated to manageable levels.

      • Ryan

        This is essentially what marriage is. It helps mitigate the risk to manageable levels.

      • The_L1985

        So does a condom. That doesn’t make condoms equivalent to marriage.

      • Anat

        The risks can be mitigated just fine without marriage. Marriage adds another form of mitigation for some people and adds another set of risks for others, so to each their own.

  • J-Rex

    I never got the whole thing about denying yourself pleasures just because. Because…it distracts you from God or something? Actually, I would imagine you’d be more focused if you weren’t thinking about how hungry you were or how much you needed to get laid.
    But going along with it, how does that change once you’re married. Why are you supposed to deny yourself this pleasure before marriage, but afterwards you can have as much sex as you want? If denying sex before marriage brings you closer to God, wouldn’t it still bring you closer to God after your married? Same with self-control. What if having sex with your spouse all the time shows a lack of self-control? That could be worrisome. “He was so self-controlled when we were dating, but now he can’t stay away from me. What if he can’t control himself around other women??” Should couples abstain from sex for long periods at a time to keep proving to each other that they have self-control and would therefore never cheat?

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

    Hi Libby! Thanks so much for the thoughtful, respectful response to the post. I’m grateful for it. (And for all the fantastic comments – I’ve learned a lot from reading them.)

    I would like to clarify that I wasn’t trying to create some sort of universal sexual ethic with my post, nor was I equating “waiting” with holiness. (Perhaps I didn’t articulate that well enough.) And I get that words like “lordship” and “holiness” come with some serious baggage for those of us who grew up in more conservative or fundamentalist religious environments. While I cringe a little when using them, I also hope to be part of redeeming and reclaiming them…but that’s a tough balance to strike, and I fail at it most of the time.

    While I agree that discussions around self-control and self-denial can certainly veer into fundamentalist territory, I’m not convinced this means self-control and self-denial have no place in the conversation. (On that I think we probably agree.) In my mind, these are character qualities that apply to a lot of areas of life, not just sexuality. In other words, there are times when “I want” need not translate into “I get.”

    The reality is, our culture does tend to communicate that sex is no big deal and that we can’t be bothered with thinking about its consequences – like pregnancy, for example – when the hormones are raging. There’s no denying the fact that sex is often treated as just another commodity to consume mindlessly. (It’s not unlike how we think about food, for example, with little concern about where it came from, who may have been exploited or harmed in its harvesting and importing, how much or how little we eat of it, where all the waste goes, etc.) The point I hoped to make with the post is that this is an area in which Christians can in fact speak counter-culturally, but without shaming. I think there’s a place for conversations about discipline and holiness, not just as they relate to sex, but as they relate to the consumerism that pervades our culture, that treats people (and the planet) as a commodities to be used up on demand.

    Again, this is NOT to say that everyone who choose to have sex outside of marriage has a mindless or consumeristic attitude about sex; it’s just to say that abandoning shaming narratives doesn’t have to mean resorting to an “anything-goes” mentality about sex; there’s got to be some sort of in between.

    (You have to remember that I write primarily for evangelicals, many of whom are only just now considering abandoning those shaming narratives and who are afraid this means shrugging our shoulders and telling our kids, “do whatever you want.”)

    I totally agree that consent is a great place to start. And I’m all for teaching young adults about consent, (and teaching them how to use condoms too). But where we might disagree is in whether consent alone goes far enough.

    This is where my faith comes into play, so I certainly don’t expect everyone here to agree with me. (And I’m the last person you will see advocating for abstinence-only education in public schools and things like that. Goodness!) But I think of sex as a sacred act, perhaps even sacramental. In sex, you are completely vulnerable with another human being, and your actions can result in the creation of a new human life – that’s a pretty big deal! While purity culture makes too much of sex; I believe the popular culture makes too little of it, as if it’s just something people do, like brushing their teeth or jogging in the morning. If we start and stop at consent, I guess I feel like there is still room for broken trust, broken commitments, and, far too often, the destruction of a fetus if it is the result of a sexual encounter without a commitment. My religious convictions regarding the treatment (or, perhaps more precisely, the definition) of the vulnerable (whether that’s a sexual partner or an unborn child) compelled me to wait until I was married to have sex, and I’m glad I did. But, again, this does not mean I am prescriptive about it or that I equate “waiting” with holiness.

    As I said in the post, I’m still sorting it out and I’m under no illusion that I’ve got all the answers. Coming out of the purity culture world can be a bit disorienting, so there’s a lot left for me to learn.

    But it’s not as simple to me as “God says no!”

    Sometimes I wish it were. :-)

    Again, thanks for weighing in. Always grateful for the conversation.

    • Amethyst Marie

      “While I agree that discussions around self-control and self-denial can certainly veer into fundamentalist territory, I’m not convinced this means self-control and self-denial have no place in the conversation. (On that I think we probably agree.) In my mind, these are character qualities that apply to a lot of areas of life, not just sexuality. In other words, there are times when “I want” need not translate into “I get.””

      Hi Rachel; as a progressive Christian sex-positive feminist, I want to point out that this principle is essential to an ethic based on mutual consent, and that sex on demand is antithetical to this ethic. Examples:

      “I want to have sex with someone other than my spouse, but my spouse doesn’t consent to that, so I don’t get to.”

      “I want to have sex with this person who says they’re not interested in me, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I get them drunk or high enough to change their mind, so I don’t get to.”

      “I want to have sex with my employee/client/patient, but that would be abusing an imbalance of power that affects their ability of full consent, so I don’t get to.”

      “I want to have sex with this person I’m on a date with and with whom I’ve had sex in the past, but they don’t feel like it right now, so I don’t get to.”

      “I want to have sex with the spouse I’ve been happily married to for several years, but they don’t feel like it right now, so I don’t get to.”

      I cannot agree more that self-control is an essential virtue in regard to sexuality and so much more. But I think, in encouraging self-control, holding up abstinence until marriage as an ideal (not even a law, but an ideal) is missing the point.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Hi Rachel! Thanks for commenting!

      First, I’m confused—with all of you talk about self control, which the blogger you quoted linked specifically to waiting until marriage, and all of your linking self control with this “path of holiness,” how is it that you weren’t equating waiting with holiness? I mean, you started out the post by saying you still value waiting for marriage, and then you focused on self control (yes, in every area of life) and on monasticism and the winding path of holiness. You say here that you see sex as sacred—something special and sacramental—but you don’t say that in your post. Instead, you make a post that is about why you think waiting for marriage is still a good idea—or at least, that’s what the intro would lead one to think is the topic—to seeking holiness through self control.

      Second, this “our culture” you keep referencing, i.e. the sexist, hypersexualized, commodification of bodies and sex, is actually something to which feminists, with their consent-based and respect-based sexual ethics, are diametrically opposed—and while I think you know this, I think you have to remember that your evangelical readers don’t. So when you paint the dichotomies you do in your post, you are telling your audience that the only sexual ethic “the world” has to offer is exploitation and the devaluing of people as individuals, and this simply is not true. The options are not “wait for marriage” or “be a raving raping sex maniac.” Again, I think you know this, but many of your readers may not, and I think this aspect of your post threatens to close off their perspective rather than broaden it.

      Third, I want to be very clear that when I talk about consent and respect, I am not endorsing the sex-has-no-value or consequences-what-consequences mentalities you discuss here (which I actually think are mostly strawmen, but that’s another discussion). Respect means respecting your partner and respecting yourself. Consent means knowing the consequences, thinking them through, and making your own choices. As I see it, in the absence of divine dicta, my sexual ethic is built on love and respect—and about informed consent, healthy choices, and safety—not on some sort of nebulous wanton hedonism. (While I disagree with you on the question of abortion, I would also point out that long term methods of birth control like IUDs are extremely effective, and that unplanned pregnancies do not cease to be a problem when one marries.) Beyond this, some people may see sex as something that is sacred and incredibly intimate and therefore choose to save it for marriage while others may see it as something that necessitates less commitment (though still consent and respect). I leave room for that diversity—my sexual ethic makes room for that diversity—and I don’t believe in dictating anyone’s sexual choices in any direction.

      Fourth, self-control and self-denial are indeed necessary things (as the mother of a baby and a toddler, I know this more than many!), but as Amethyst Marie points out, these things are not at all absent from a consent-based and respect-based sexual ethic. In fact, they’re required. I don’t know who exactly is having the “on demand” sex you talk about, but it isn’t people operating from this paradigm—consent by definition means that you can’t just go have sex with anyone you want anytime you want. I guess what I’d ask is, why do you have to combine this emphasis on self-control with the suggestion that sex before marriage is wrong? Why not just say that it’s important to combat consumerism by learning the value of self-control and self-denial (not for their own sake, but for the good of others and society as a whole), and to combat the commodification of people by learning to approach others with respect?

      Fifth, I know you would disagree, but I don’t think you can separate the self-control-means-waiting-for-marriage line from the toxicity of the purity culture. That anecdote I gave about the couple I knew whose marriage was forever damaged by the linking of self-control with abstaining from premarital sex? That anecdote is real, and watching that couple today, still struggling with the fallout of this, is painful. If they hadn’t believed that they had to wait until marriage, their having premarital sex would not have caused their marriage these problems. Further, there are plenty of people who have sex before marriage, and for whom a lack of self control has nothing to do with it. These couples consciously choose to have sex, feeling they are ready and prepared for this step, and suggesting that they are simply doing that because they have no self control robs them of agency. Given all this, any time you suggest that waiting for marriage is simply about self-control—or quote someone saying that—it cuts me to the quick.

      Sixth, I don’t think you can separate the sex-is-sacred line from the toxicity of the purity culture either. As an example, my husband was not a virgin when I met him, and I spent the first year of our relationship angry at him because I believed sex was sacred, and that should not have shared that act with anyone else. It had nothing to do with seeing him as dirty and everything to do with the fact that I saw sex as sacred and especially intimate and resented him for having shared it with anyone else. This is the toxicity of the purity culture. You can’t say sex is sacred and also give a free pass to people who don’t wait for marriage. I suppose you could say that you personally see it that way but that seeing it that way isn’t required or stated absolutely by God, and that it’s just something personal, and maybe that’s what you’re doing. But stating universally that sex is sacred and should be confined to marriage—I at this point I don’t think that can be separated from the shame, the blame, the guilt, the pain, the hurt, the anger, the crushed relationships of the purity culture.

      Anyway, I don’t usually write comment responses this long—and I probably still missed parts of your comments—but you generally do come across as the sort of person who is genuinely interested in hearing others’ perspectives and ideas. :)

      • The_L1985

        “You can’t say sex is sacred and also give a free pass to people who don’t wait for marriage.”

        Hi! Wiccan here. I respectfully disagree, as my faith says that because sex is sacred, and because marriage tends to generally result in monogamy, it might be a good idea to get in some practice first. :)

  • Hat Stealer

    Obsession with Jesus is just as bad if not worse than obsession with virginity.

  • smrnda

    I really don’t feel like i have that much to offer after all that’s been said, but I’ve never gotten the idea of ‘deny yourself X because denying yourself things you want is good.’

    I think part of this is a false belief that our desires are corrupt, and that we naturally want things that are bad for us, and that unless we’re forced to we won’t do anything good, useful or healthy. Right now, I’d like to eat a salad. I see someone running outside – I would imagine they are doing what they feel like right now. There are people who are in school and studying and learning because they want to.

    I don’t get the whole self-denial thing. If I decided not to drink coffee for a week, what would be the point? Unless something is taking over or ruining your life, what’s the point of not doing it?

    • Joykins

      ” I see someone running outside – I would imagine they are doing what they feel like right now.”

      Not necessarily. Some of us exercise on doctor’s orders.

      • smrnda

        Agreed, though I know enough people who actually *like* running that I think people doing it because they want to make up a sizable portion.

    • guest

      One of the reasons I think that kind of self-denial is useful is that it helps to prepare me for eventualities. If I suddenly find myself unable to have coffee, for reasons outside of my control, instead of saying ‘omg, what am I going to do without my coffee??’ I can say ‘I had a go at not drinking coffee for a week, and it worked out OK; I don’t choose it this time, but I’ve done it before so I know what it will be like.’ This gives me one less stressful thing to worry about in what will surely be a stressful situation (any situation in which I suddenly find myself denied things I’m used to having).

  • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

    The sexual instincts can be overpowering. It seems best to master and demystify them rather than to continue letting them be a hot button. We can still engage in sex for bonding just fine.

  • Melissa

    As far as how sex and holiness might be connected, this is the best argument I’ve ever seen. And it doesn’t depend on purity:

    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-missional-and-apostolic-nature-of.html

    There at least the argument hinges more on faithfulness than on marriage per se. But frankly, I thought this was also Rachel’s larger point. She mentioned that she herself waited for marriage, but she several times qualified that practice as applied to others.

    I think encouraging faithfulness and monogamy might help people to avoid using or exploiting or hurting others (all of which can happen even if people ostensibly give their consent, pace Dan Savage), though nothing is perfect and nothing completely prevents hurt. In any case, sex is not necessarily always awesome and fun and just everyone’s natural expression of their bodies. It can have damaging emotional consequences. It can hurt. People can not be ready. Teenagers- fifteen year olds, which I believe is about the age of Jamie’s son- can not be ready. Why is it somehow not okay to say this? I was not ready at fifteen. I was not ready at nineteen, which is when I had sex for the first time. And I was not ready even though I was not raised in anything resembling a purity culture. On the contrary, sex seemed to be expected of me. I felt shamed for not being ready. “Wait” doesn’t have to mean wait until marriage (nor did Rachel say it did), but waiting a while, per se, is not necessarily bad, especially for teenagers.

    Whether faithfulness needs to involve marriage per se: maybe not. It didn’t in the Bible necessarily- or anyway, marriage often seems to have consisted of having sex with someone in your tent. But it is simply not true that there is no middle ground between marriage and all kinds of consensual sex (you imply Rachel said there is no middle ground, but in fact she said the opposite), or that finding such a middle ground is not worthwhile.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      To be clear, I said Rachel implied there was no middle ground in secular society. She very clearly was trying to carve out some middle ground for herself, still preserving sex for marriage but doing away with the shame stuff.

      As for encouraging faithfulness, I’m confused. Doesn’t a respect-based and consent-based sexual ethic do that already? Indeed, it actually outlaws cheating entirely, because when you’re cheating your other partner is suddenly thrust nonconsensually into an open relationship.

      I’m also not sure what you mean by asking why it’s not okay to say some kids aren’t ready yet. Who says it’s not okay to say that? I think the problem is that we cannot determine for someone else whether they are ready. And if we can move toward a truly consent-based and respect-based sexual ethic, people won’t feel pushed to have sex before we’re ready.

      Finally, what you’re doing by bringing faithfulness in without positively okaying premarital sex is making me nervous, and here’s why: My husband had sex with another woman before we were together, and I, having been raised in the purity culture, therefore felt that he had cheated on me. He had been unfaithful to me before we even met. I therefore questioned whether I could trust him to be faithful to me, and after half a decade of marriage, I can say for sure that my concerns were not valid. My husband wasn’t cheating when he had sex with another woman before we met—he wasn’t even in a relationship with me at the time, so how could he have been cheating?! Anyway, that makes me nervous about the direction you seem to be taking that idea, but then, maybe I’m misreading you.

  • Hee Kyun

    All humans know, deep in their souls, that there is something dark and shameful in premarital sex.

    No matter how much women are conditioned to think otherwise, they always hang their heads when the man they gave themselves to is gone.

    All women know deep down, that they throw stones a virgins due to a sense of deep jealousy.
    All women know that when they move in with a man pre-marriage, they are auditioning for the role of wife.

    • Anat

      And how do you know how *all* humans or women think? There is nothing shameful about premarital sex per se. Who envies virgins? Why would they?

    • The_L1985

      1. No, I don’t. There is something dark and shameful in treating someone like a monster after she (and yes, it’s almost always “she,” not “he”) had premarital sex. Virgins are people. People who abstained from sex until marriage are people. People who chose not to abstain are also still people.

      2. Actually, I’m glad that the young man to whom I lost my virginity “is gone.” He had serious issues and was a controlling asshole. However, because I had absorbed the messages of the purity culture, I believed that I had to marry him because we’d had sex and I was therefore “damaged goods.” It wasn’t until I broke up with him that I felt free and happy again. When I remember that I broke up with him, it makes me proud of myself, not ashamed–that decision to break up saved me from a lifetime of abuse.

      3. I’ve been a virgin. I know what it’s like. I know what being sexually-active is like too. I don’t see any significant difference between the two states, any more than I see a significant difference between someone who’s seen The King And I and someone who hasn’t. How can I be jealous of something that…isn’t different from me? Seriously, how would that even work?

      I’m also the last person to throw stones at virgins, because, as I said above, I don’t see any significance in whether or not I’m a virgin, much less whether someone else is.

      4. In my case, yes. If I am to spend the rest of my life living with the man I love, I want to make damn sure I can stand to live under the same roof before we get married, so that in the off-chance that things don’t work I don’t have to worry about the expense and stress of a divorce on top of the stress and expense of moving back out. How is that a bad thing?

      • Olive Markus

        “2. Actually, I’m glad that the young man to whom I lost my virginity “is gone.” He had serious issues and was a controlling asshole. However, because I had absorbed the messages of the purity culture, I believed that Ihad to marry him because we’d had sex and I was therefore “damaged goods.” It wasn’t until I broke up with him that I felt free and happy again. When I remember that I broke up with him, it makes me proud of myself, not ashamed–that decision to break up saved me from a lifetime of abuse.”

        Me, too. I could have written every word here.

    • Olive Markus

      “No matter how much women are conditioned to think otherwise, they always hang their heads when the man they gave themselves to is gone.”

      No, you have it completely backwards. Women are actually conditioned by people like you and the culture you belong to that they must feel shame in these scenarios.

      Some women do feel shame, because they’ve been taught to. Some women feel sadness, because they’ve lost somebody they cared about. Some women feel pretty neutral, because the relationship was simply … over. Other women, such as myself, felt magnificent, beautiful and outrageous GLEE to finally be rid of that somebody. No shame. Not even an ounce. On the other hand, I was devastated by the loss of a boyfriend with whom I’d never had any type of sexual relationship. I’m sure the emotions that affect women during break-ups can be anywhere in between and beyond these examples.

      That you see women as so one-sided and simple-minded regarding virginity is an extraordinary clue as to how you see us in general.

    • plch

      I was a vergin for far too long and I envied almost anyone else who had a bare minimum of sexual/love life. When I finally had sex (with a friend, he never went away because there wasn’t a relationship) I felt so much relief and the envy stopped. I had to wait still years before I got a love life worth of its name but at least the edge of my ‘raw sadness’ was gone.

  • Mewslie

    OK I really am trying to understand her point but after reading her post, I still don’t see her answer to why sex is bad before marriage but hunky dory afterwards. Self control didn’t explain anything, in fact it parallels an obese person on a diet until their target weight is reached and going back to eating what they really want

    Her arguments boiled down to sex before marriage does not sit right with me because of the way it makes me feel in light of my religion.

    I find the better statement to be don’t have sex until you feel ready to, which happens to include her vague feelings of the disillusioned of self-control and holiness.

  • Jolie

    It’s true that what she says is a bit unclear.There’s one question I’d love to ask her- and the answer to it would quite clearly color my opinion on what she has to say on waiting to have sex until marriage: “Do you believe that people who are, let’s say, atheist and have no interest in the Christian kind of spirituality should feel free to have premarital sex with a consenting partner and enjoy it?”

    I think there is a world of difference between (1) “Everybody should wait until marriage to have sex/ have sex no later than the third date/ be strictly heterosexual/ be strictly lesbian/etc.; otherwise you are a damaged human being and all your relationships will fail miserably” and (2) “My own, personal spiritual path entails strict celibacy until marriage/ strict celibacy for life/ ritually offering myself sexually to other enlightenment-seekers in anonymous group sex sessions/etc. – or strict veganism, giving up the vast majority of my worldly posessions to the poor, practising daily meditation, communicating with spirits through shamanic rituals etc.; this is what brings me spiritual enlightenment and this is what I advocate to my disciples, should they choose to follow me.”

    There is one catch to this: (2) stays different from (1) only insofar you acknowledge that your own personal spiritual path is one of the many possible: not all people are cut out to be your disciples and follow it; and as long as they feel happy/spiritually fulfilled and do not cause avoidable harm to other people and the world in the process, people who do not follow a spiritual path similar to yours are no worse, no less moral, no less worthy of respect and no less spiritual than those who do. (I’m using “spiritual” in a wide sense here: for instance a convinced atheist with no interest in “the divine”, “the magical” or “the supernatural” can find spirituality in love, friendship or understanding the complexity of nature through scientific endeavour; this does not make them less spiritual than, say, a devout Christian or a new-age Goddess-worshipper who find spirituality in their respective religions). If you believe that your spiritual practices (whatever they may be) constitute *the only path* to righteousness/holiness/Enlightenment/a spiritual state and anyone who do not practice them are doing it wrong/are spiritually deluded/will end-up unhappy and spiritually unfulfilled, then (2) becomes more and more indistinguishable from (1).

    • plectrophenax

      Nice argument. I suppose some Christians argue for (1), that is, everybody should do what I/we say! It just seems untenable in today’s pluralistic world. And once you accept that not everybody agrees with you, then either you have to say they are wrong, and they should agree with you, or that you are also a pluralist.

  • Henry Rowold

    Why, indeed, should sex be saved for marriage? Would not such casual uncoupling of sex from marriage put horrendous pressures on marriages? Doesn’t that cheapen both sex and marriage?

  • Lynn

    I agree with everything you said in the post. The “WHY is sex before marriage bad?” question is never adequately answered by evangelicals, in my experience. The “self-control” answer makes very little sense to me. People in Bible times married much younger than we do now–so it strikes me as problematic to say God wants us to learn self-control by denying ourselves sex until marriage, given that in our culture that means abstaining 10, 15, 30 years post-puberty. (Or forever, for people who never get married.) But that would not have been the case at all for the people in the Old Testament and New Testament days.
    Furthermore, I find no clear directive from the Bible regarding obstaining from premarital sex. The more I look at it, the more convinced I am that reading a blanket ban on premarital sex into the Bible is just that–reading it in. I worry that the evangelical culture has just accepted this teaching as Biblical without asking many questions about the passages that supposedly ban premarital sex. This is a huge topic, hard to write about in one comment, but…. I actually think the parts of the Old Testament that read to us (today) like a ban on premarital sex are in fact condemnations of completely different things: stealing, lying, misrepresentation, and showing complete disregard for a person in a position of less privilege. I see no condemnation of sex itself.

    • Alice

      Yeah, most passages talk about “sexual immorality” and that could have any number of meanings. Since most people got married at a young age, I think adultery would be a lot more common from of “sexual immorality” than pre-martial sex.

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