Thursday, April 10, 2008

What is it for?

Bobvis retails a WSJ report on the hookup culture in universities, when Trumwill throws a grenade in the comments:

I would be hesitant to dedicate myself to a young lady that had chosen to save herself for marriage. Not because I don't think that is an honorable thing to do (in fact I would greatly admire the discipline), but because I would I would be concerned that she had some sexual/religious hangups about sex in general (even after marriage) and that the not-married rationale was a cover or stalling tactic.

Naturally I asked:

Do you have stats?

He didn't, but then neither do I. After googling around for an hour, I came up with three studies that might address this, but they are tucked inside pay-per-view journals whose prices exceed my motivation. So, lacking data, I will here attempt to engage the model at an intuitive level.

The substantive question before the house is: Does a woman's desire to remain chaste indicate "frigidity," defined here as a lack of interest in or a distaste for sex. This question would lead to a testable hypothesis: does the extent of a woman's premarital sexual history (number of partners, frequency of sex per partner, etc.) correlate positively or negatively with the frequency of sex in her eventual marriage.

I will begin with the following concessions:

1. The general expectation in favor of chasity has largely perished from the broader culture. The specific religious worldview(s) from which the injunction to chasity flows is not universally held. And few people (certainly not I) believe that chasity is "natural" (as opposed to a civilizational artifact). In this context, a woman without any apparent religious affiliation who wants to wait for marriage "just 'cuz" is plausibly indicating a low sex drive. (She is also plausibly indicating a lack of physical attraction for a particular class of suitors, a separate issue.)

2. A shared religious and moral worldview is important in a relationship. An expressed preference for chasity could well indicate a larger incompatibility with a man who doesn't share that preference.

But on the other hand.

1. There are larger considerations. The elephant in the living room is the amply documented connection between pre-marital sex/cohabitation and post-marital adultery/divorce. From a proper religious understanding of sex, it is not hard to understand why. Sex has been given to us to bond us to another person: "the two shall become one flesh." Much as sticky-tape, once applied and ripped away, loses its stickiness, so too will the sex act, repeatedly applied and then ripped away, eventually lose its ability to perform the bonding function.

2. There are other background variables. Fact: with few exceptions, men have higher sex drives than women. Thus, few men will find a woman whose interest in having sex matches their own. Plus, we get old. We get busy and stressed with the business of managing a communal life, especially when children enter the picture. We get tired. Eventually, we get rather ugly. None of these things is conducive to a woman's sex drive. In light of all this, I would much rather choose a woman with a proper understanding of her covenant duties* with regard to sex than attempt to tease out the predictive value of a woman's sexual past on how often she'll be as ready as I am to take a roll in the hay ten years into the marriage.

3. Trumwill, specifically, wants to draw the following distinction:

My personal preference is for sex to be reserved for stable, monogamous relationships. I've not advocated anything else. To the extent that I differ from Phi (and apparently you), it's that I don't believe that marriage is necessarily a precondition for it.

Trumwill subsequently defines stable as "a year or two". I'm not impressed. As Bobvis points out in the subsequent post, this deal really bites from a woman's perspective. On the one hand, she is to save sex for stable, committed relationships. But she must embark on a one- to two-year trial wherein she must prove her sexual athleticism. In the mean time, she can be overturned at any time for any reason. So . . . "stable" and "committed" in this context really mean temporary and contingent, undermining the stated conditions under which she is expected to have sex in the first place. Trumwill is undoubtedly arguing in good faith here, but ultimately, this circle cannot be squared.

Update: In the comments, Trumwill takes issue with my interpretation of his words. The discussion continues . . . .

*Footnote: Inevitably, the usual people will try to spin this as saying that a man has a right to demand sex from, or force sex on, his wife. I will pre-emptively point out that this is not what I wrote, nor what I believe.

6 comments:

bobvis said...

tucked inside pay-per-view journals whose prices exceed my motivation

Send your e-mail address to bobvisblog at gmail dot com. If I can get to them here, I'll send them to you.

trumwill said...

I agree with more of what you say than you might think. Or maybe I should say that I disagree less. I think that there are some spectacular arguments to be made against premarital sex on the whole and that society should not encourage it. If I lived in a society that discouraged it, the way I see those that hold out and those that don't would almost certainly be very different. I am not arguing that society is right to have the expectations that it does (I'm conflicted), merely that these expectations exist and that it means something when someone bucks these expectations. Where we seem to disagree is what it means when someone does.

I'd imagine that when you look at someone that is saving themselves for marriage, you see someone of moral fortitude, self-control, and maybe wisdom. Very often, your perception of them is going to be right. I'm with you on that point. But I also see at least the potential for something else. Something that, if true, could be very problematic. Something that I would need to investigate further to see if it is true. Something that might make me hesitant until I figure out if their motivations are the right ones... or if they have a more secret motive or perhaps something about themselves that they don't even realize.

If I didn't come outright and say it earlier, I do not believe that chastity necessarily means frigidity. Only that it might and if it does that represents a problem for me.

It's interesting that you should bring up premarital cohabitation. It's an area where I'm on the other side of the argument, believing that the proliferation of premarital cohabitation is a bad thing and personally wanting to avoid it if I could. I'm extremely lucky that I got married when I did and to whom I did (someone that agreed with me on this point) because I don't know that ten years from now I would have been able to avoid it because it's becoming so normalized. I doubt my children, if I have them, will be able to avoid it, if they want to.

Had I met someone else other than my wife, or had she felt differently about it, she would have looked at my reluctance to premaritally cohabitate and a flag would have gone off: this is someone that is afraid to commit! It would have been wrong in my case, but it is not an unreasonable thing to wonder. To worry about. It would at least warrant some scrutiny because it's such an atypical attitude and it's the type of thing that a guy might say to forestall commitment. Even feeling how I do on the issue, if a female friend said that she wanted to move in with a guy and he said that he was against premarital cohabitation, half of me might be defending his point of view but half of me would say "something might be off here" because my view is increasingly the minority view. Maybe he just thinks he feels that way because it's a convenient way for him to push back the uncomfortable thought that he wants out.

She is also plausibly indicating a lack of physical attraction for a particular class of suitors, a separate issue.

This may actually be the most important sentence that you wrote in this entire piece. A lot of the thinking behind this comes from the practical observation that if you've been dating someone for an extended period of time or within the confines of a serious, monogamous relationship, that's not a good thing. Further, she will come up with all sorts of reasons as to why she is choosing not to and these reasons will be good and right and noble. You will frequently find out that this rationale only applies to certain people and not to other people or that the dry spell will last longer than the original reason given originally allowed for. If pushed, a new reason will appear. They're not necessarily lying to you. They're often lying to themselves.

Trumwill subsequently defines stable as "a year or two".

I don't know if this is important to you or not, but I wouldn't define stability in terms of time. I was in a two-year relationship(ish thing) that was very unstable. In two other relationships ("grenade girl" and my wife) stability was achieved within a couple months. It's a quality thing, not a quantity thing. The "one or two years" that I mentioned was more in reference to the amount of time one generally has to make the decision to marry someone.

In the mean time, she can be overturned at any time for any reason. So . . . "stable" and "committed" in this context really mean temporary and contingent, undermining the stated conditions under which she is expected to have sex in the first place.

In regards to my relationship and breaking up with Julie... stable doesn't mean permanent and impermanent does not mean unstable. We were together for five years. Getting out of it was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do in part because it was so stable. It was stable and good and eventually it became stable and bad. In the five years, there were only a couple of phases of instability. When we first started having sex, it wasn't under the pretense of permanence. It was under the reality of stability, though. I would caution (and have cautioned) strongly against any woman having premarital sex relying on the notion that they will get married some day.

But she must embark on a one- to two-year trial wherein she must prove her sexual athleticism.

The point is not to prove one's athleticism much at all. Nor is it even for the physical gratification of sex. If for some reason it can't happen, that's a completely different thing from it not happening because of some choice that she made. If I found myself with someone that chose not to have sex because of a covenant with God and I was convinced that the covenant with God was the reason, I'd be fine with it. But I'd need convincing. I'd need to look at the rest of their life and see if they live that according to the same religious ideals they use as their rationale for abstinance or some other assurance that there wasn't something else at play and unfortunately that's a difficult thing to prove. Maybe my skepticism is completely unwarranted, but people find noble justifications for things they're not proud of quite frequently.

Φ said...

Although I hate to generalize from my own experience, that experience requires me to admit there is much truth in what you say.

As I have written before, Mrs. Φ was, and remains, the only girl I have ever kissed. (She had to ask me, poor woman.) This, and other physical intimacy we exchanged during our courtship established, first, that she would not recoil at my touch (this was a big hurtle for me; hell, up to then, I recoiled at my own touch); while I couldn't have articulated it at the time, it helped show that her love was truly romantic in a full-spectrum sense of the word. Second, it bound me to her emotionally in a way that helped us survive our frankly stormy courtship.

This is not a normative observation. I have known at least one couple that claimed not to have even kissed prior to marriage, and more power to them. But I can understand how a man with more of a "past" than I had would feel the need for correspondingly more physical . . . demonstration of a woman's true love.

But what if the magic of that first kiss had been squandered on a relationship that never went anywhere. That could have easily happened, and I don't even have a principled reason why it shouldn't have happened. And then, come the next relationship, I would have required even more physical demonstration of the woman's affection for it to feel real and special.

I don't see a path out of this dilemma; I can only urge young people to not seek "sexual experience" of even the most innocent sort for its own sake.

Φ said...

Somewhat more adversarially . . . I've read your comment several times, and I'm still not sure what you mean by the word "stable". To me, stable in the relevant sense means "married" or "intending toward marriage" or even "intending toward permanence." The intent is what's at issue here.

Please don't misread me here. I don't think for a moment that "honorable intentions" alone are much to build a house on; intentions can be immature, and even marriage itself can fail; such is the sin of mankind.

But my objection is that even sex undertaken on mere "honorable intentions" is qualitatively different than sex undertaken without them. Whatever "stable" means, it oughtn't mean contingency. It oughtn't mean "prove you like sex" or "prove you'll like sex with me".

And it oughtn't mean toying with the pin on that grenade.

trumwill said...

But what if the magic of that first kiss had been squandered on a relationship that never went anywhere. That could have easily happened, and I don't even have a principled reason why it shouldn't have happened.

My first kiss was to a drunk girl. Not just drunk, she was thrashed. She was sitting in my lap and kissed my cheek fourteen times and then finally on the fifteenth time I kissed her back. She'd apparently been waiting for that since the moment she met me. Slowly things progressed a bit here and a bit there. She was nice and pleasant and cute and I kept waiting to like her, but I never really did.

We finally got to that do-we-don't-we point. She very much wanted to (if perhaps only to give her the validation I'm sure my mannerisms weren't). It felt like I heard a voice. A soft whisper in my ear that simply said "No." I was in such a bad place at the time that I held nothing sacred and a big part of me wanted to lose my virginity in such a vile manner, so I don't know what possessed me to listen to it, but I did.

Things didn't work out with the first girl that I did have sex with a couple years later (grenade girl), but I don't harbor nearly the regrets that I would have with the other one (about whom I have more than enough regrets about as it is).

And then, come the next relationship, I would have required even more physical demonstration of the woman's affection for it to feel real and special.

That's true to an extent, but not entirely. The next relationship and the one after that and the one after that did have a degree of dragon-chasing, but when I met the woman that became my wife, the first kiss was far more magical than more physically intense activities with others before.

I honestly don't know if it works this way for other people, but the difference between the right person and the wrong person seems to make all the difference with me.

I can only urge young people to not seek "sexual experience" of even the most innocent sort for its own sake.

We can sort of agree on this. If I have children, one of the things I would want to impress on them is that once certain switches are flipped, they can't be flipped back.

trumwill said...

To me, stable in the relevant sense means "married" or "intending toward marriage" or even "intending toward permanence."

To me it means (among other things, perhaps, but primarily) both parties are comfortable with where the relationship is and where it is headed. Though I can conceive of exceptions, the vast majority of the time this means that there is no end in sight for the relationship. No insurmountable issues either ongoing or on the horizon. That's not to say that there aren't any problems or potential problems, but rather that both have the reasonable expectation that they can and will be dealt with.

It doesn't mean that the relationship is never going to end, but that it will take some significant force to end it. The current trajectory is either continuation or improvement.

Whatever "stable" means, it oughtn't mean contingency. It oughtn't mean "prove you like sex" or "prove you'll like sex with me".

Once it gets to that point, it's already lost its stability. To choose another example, take grenade girl and her next boyfriend (I don't mean to demean her by calling her GG, I just don't generally use HC pseudonyms on other blogs). They had a stable relationship up until about the four year point when she started wondering why this stable relationship wasn't turning into a marriage. Prior to her anxiousness, she was comfortable with where the relationship is and where it was going (which she reasonably assumed was marriage). Once it became apparent that it was not going where it was supposed that it was going, it became unstable.

The same is true of sex. Ironically, once it's become an issue of contention the stability needed for it is kind of lost. The relationship by that point is in trouble whether they have sex or not. He may reasonably come to the conclusion that she will only have sex when pressured, which doesn't necessarily assuage the underlying fears. A relationship can survive that conflict, but I'd bet against it every time.

(This is all under the assumption that the physical gratification is not in itself the issue. I am of the mind that sex is almost never actually about sex. A lot of people disagree with this assessment.)

And it oughtn't mean toying with the pin on that grenade.

I agree. Had I been toying with the pin in the grenade at the time that we started having sex, I'd have a lot of difficulty reconciling my theory with that particular relationship. As it was, sex came in about eight months into a relationship that lasted more than four years. At the time we had sex, we were in a stable relationship and one that didn't seem like it was going to end.

About three years later things started becoming unstable. I became very uncomfortable with where the relationship was and I was terrified of where it was going. In the intervening years I had become a different person.

TheSpark.com used to have a match program. About a year after we broke up, grenade girl and I took it and we scored some paltry 49% compatibility. Curious, I went back and re-took the quiz with the answers I would have given a couple years before. We scored 100%, the only person with whom I ever scored that high on that quiz. Going from one's late teens to early twenties can do that to a person. It's easy to understand the divorce rate of high school sweethearts.

On a sidenote, I will go ahead and confess that I have not always lived up to the standards I espouse here, but I see those failures for what they were and do not defend them as I am defending the relationship with grenade girl.