In my last post, I proposed a philosophy of extreme prudishness in response to my fondness for affairs. In this post, I would like to explain why this is a reasonable response.
Despite being a total prude, I will readily admit to seeing the appeal of a steamy (literary) extramarital affair. Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say that I think cheating is permissible or that I plan to have an affair; rather, I simply acknowledge that something about an illicit affair is conducive to a good love story. (And based on all of trash literature, it seems that a sizable niche agrees with me.) What’s more, I believe that by examining the appeal of an affair, it’s possible to discover how to better conduct our own lives.
In the typical story, a rule-abiding protagonist is trapped in a loveless marriage or relationship, and finds an escape from it in some forbidden love. This situation clearly attests to the passion which drives the affair, for the conscientious protagonist would not engage in such an ill-advised venture without an overwhelming emotion motivating it. Alternatively, if the affair itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, it can be a testament to the horror of the relationship the protagonist is trying to escape. Although we never envy the protagonist’s hopeless situation, (Anna Karenina, anyone?) the affair’s appeal accentuates our desire for sincere passion, and our aversion to settling for boring, passionless relationships.
Although counterintuitive, I believe that extreme prudishness provides the best chance at finding a passionate and lasting relationship whilst avoiding the horrors either of passionless entrapment or of an illicit affair. Here, by extreme prudishness, I do not mean fear of sex, unwillingness to discuss sex, or any other form of “ladylike” behavior. Instead, I propose a form of restraint which, instead of aimed at sexiness, is designed to oppose the physical and emotional cultivation of romance.
This does not entail any specific rules such as “no premarital kissing” or “thou shalt not declare thy love before the 7th date.” It would, however, oppose these things when done for the sake of cultivating romance. So if I suspect that a particular action, for instance kissing, would dramatically increase my fondness for someone, I should try to avoid such behavior.
Here’s an excerpt from a note written by one of my friends (posted with permission):
People tell me that wanting to live in my house with my family until I get married is immature. That checking in with my mom every day is immature. That being direct about what I think is immature, because someonematureshould be able totolerateeveryone. Firstly, maturity means different things in different cultures, I’ll give you that. But the (largely American) idea that maturity is simply knowing about and experiencing all those things that were taboo for you as a child is an idea that I vehemently disagree with and think is responsible for the failure of today’s youth to become compassionate members of society. [emphasis mine.]
This identifies one of the most common reasons people choose to lose their virginity: as a rite of passage. Having sex is seen as proof of maturity and a declaration of freedom. As teenagers and adults, we have a great deal of freedom, and our society encourages the false belief that we are only truly free if we choose to do everything that we have the power to. But freedom doesn’t actually lie in trying everything; rather, it lies in our ability to freely choose whether or not to do something. Thus, underage drinking is not an expression of freedom if done under peer pressure, and sexual liberation is not an expression of liberation if done merely to prove that you’re not a child. It is true that, even under pressure, drinking frees you from certain stresses, just as sex liberates you from sexual restraint; but in the same way, even when under pressure, chastity helps to liberate you from the strength of your passions. What’s more, when chosen freely, chastity is both an expression of freedom and of maturity, for it is an active decision to do what is most conducive to your long term happiness, as well as the happiness of others.
It is also important to ask ourselves what the value of freedom is. I am free to not brush my teeth, but there wouldn’t be much value in that decision. Yet if I were forced to brush my teeth, there would be less value in that than if I freely chose to brush my teeth, precisely because I chose it. Thus, freedom adds value to the pursuit of excellence, and the cost of freedom is the opportunity to stray from that path. The truest way to celebrate freedom, then, is to determine for yourself what is the best path, not the most radical or the most widely accepted. And by making and following our own rational decisions aimed at excellence, we have the opportunity to achieve a much greater good than if we were simply forced to do the right thing.
Yet the pressure remains to add meaning and drama to our lives by having sex. We are young, shouldn’t we be experiencing more? It’s easy to feel that life is boring if we’re simply being good, that we’re wasting our youth away unless we’re experiencing passion, drama, and excitement. Yet that sort of attachment to passion is not real freedom, nor is it even a greater human experience. Reason, after all, is certainly as central to humanity as passion is.
It’s also easy to feel that, unless we’ve tried something at least once, we can’t truly make a fair decision about it, because we don’t know what it’s like. Yet the reverse is equally true. I might think that porn is corrupting, yet I don’t watch porn, so how can I know? But if I did watch porn, and I did find it corrupting but also appealing, I might find myself thinking that I shouldn’t watch porn, but also wanting to. That knowledge would not provide me with freedom, but with greater difficulty in acting as I desire. In the same way, although my virginity prevents me from being able to say
I enjoy sex precisely X amount, and thus my decision to abstain from it lies in a careful cost-benefit analysis, I would gain nothing from that knowledge. I believe people when they tell me that sex is enjoyable (and my decision to abstain is independent from how enjoyable sex is). Experiencing sex would not help me to make a more well informed decision; rather, it would just make it harder for me to make the decision which I know to be the wisest.
Finally, I would like to add that, while I believe it’s probably easier to be abstinent when you’re a virgin, there’s no reason that losing your virginity should in any way affect your decision to pursue a chaste life. My primary concern in this article is that people lose their virginity under the false impression that they are doing it to increase their freedom. The fact that someone has lost their virginity does not detract from any future decisions they make regarding abstinence. In fact, non-virgins who pursue a chaste lifestyle are perhaps better advocates for chastity, because they can be more readily trusted by everyone who’s had sex. So I would encourage those of you who consider yourself sexually liberated to aim for an even greater freedom: liberation from premarital sex.
Professor Wilcox gave a talk on the topic of marriage, specifically on how much of today’s culture is failing to prepare young men and women for proper courtship with the end goal of a stable marriage for raising children.
Here is part I of a religious panel discussion on the notion of chastity as a public good.
Here is part II of the religious panel discussion.
Here is part I of a talk by Dr. Morse in which she outlines the economic analysis presented in the paper “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States” by G. Akerlof, J. Yellen, and M. Katz (1996).
Here is part II of Dr. Morse’s talk.