I’m Glad I Had Sex “Outside of Marriage”
We’ve been culturally watered down to think we have to teach about sex, about having sex and how to get away with it, which is intellectually dishonest. Why don’t we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?
You know, I’ve been chewing on the idea professed by Representative Wright of Holden, Utah that it is nothing more than honesty to assert that non-marital is devastating. I thought about writing a whole angry tangent about this issue on my piece on HB 363, but I wanted to keep the post Stephanie Zvan had invited me to write on point and as succinct as possible.
But the fact remains that I really do not understand this mindset, even though I have been more sexually conservative than some. I have a healthy sex drive and could by no normal definition be called a prude*, but have never wanted to pursue casual sexual relationships for myself. And yet not only am a delighted that I had years of sex before I got married, I feel those who idealize virginity until the honeymoon are gambling on future happiness and satisfaction.
Sexuality and sensuality are important parts of a healthy whole self for the vast majority of people**. Yet there is a strange disconnect when people talk about sexual drive, it becomes something lower, lesser and part of an unwelcome bestial influence. People begin to talk about how there are different types of sex, where one is good and spiritual and pure and the other makes you no different from an animal (actually animals are more like fundamentalist Christians: infrequent sex for procreation.) And we twist sexuality even further when discussing men and women, who are held to completely different and uniquely damaging standards for sexual interest, behavior and desire. Women are taintable and delicate, not truly needing sex on a fundamental level; men are ravenous inhuman beasts with no need for tenderness or companionship in sexual relationships.
So there is no confusion or apology involved I will say this: I am a sex-positive feminist. There is nothing wrong or bad about sex. Sex is and should be great.
To any number of religious conservatives, the fact that I’m sex positive and had years of marriage-free sex would clearly mean I deserve to be slut shamed as an immoral deviant. I almost love being able to challenge their assumptions about happy sex-positive people, maybe even getting them to consider whether their initial reaction to vilify happy sexually active people who aren’t married. The reason I’m able to do this is pretty simple: I’ve had exactly one sex partner in my lifetime of sexual activity (about a decade now). And I’m currently married to him.
It was the freedom to discover myself as a happy sexual being and find out whether my current spouse and I are compatible as lifelong mates that has added great joy and strength to my marriage. What’s more, the opportunity to acknowledge the sensual sides of ourselves when we were younger and financially unstable meant we didn’t feel pressured to just get married because we wanted to get laid. It was the right choice for both of us and our lives are better for it.
My parents both had sex before they were married too. And not just with each other! They have been married since 1979 and are still together; somehow the “devastating” calculus here seems off.
What’s more, I have known too many people (just in my generation) for whom being virgins come their wedding night was very much the wrong option for them and ended up causing them and their children avoidable misery. I have watched how embracing or outgrowing the anti-sex religious zealotry by family members has had a profound impact on their lives and happiness.
Let’s take just two people I’m related to as examples (I’m not going to provide any specific identifying information on either since I don’t have permission to do so). One cousin is male, was raised by very devout born-again Christian parents. The other is female and while she was raised by devoted LDS parents, escaped from their control at a fairly young age by training as a chef and living as far as possible from her parents.
My male cousin did something not unusual when raised by very conservative parents: he rebelled. He drank to excess, experimented with drugs and screwed any women he could while hating himself as a terrible sinner. Made himself miserable, and finally was “reborn” and saved by Jesus who helped him discover self-control and forgave him all the terrible and self-indulgent things he’d been doing. So he became a good Christian who felt the need to judge others for living their lives, telling them that they were headed for unhappiness and damnation. He made my kind, quiet spouse want to hit him in the face by implying there was something wrong with women having short hair.
He went to church regularly and met a pretty young woman who had not been led astray as he had. At her parents’ request, they waited until she finished her undergraduate degree (which she’s not using) to marry. And then: the sex was awful. It was so awful, in fact, that this young woman wasn’t enjoying their sex life over a year into their marriage, but was having miserable, dutiful sex. This makes me so angry I could break something.
Contrast that with my female cousin. She became a chef and found a job cooking at a research station in Antarctica for six months. She’s traveled the world and chased down her dreams. She’s had sex in serious relationship and just for fun. (She once smirkily told my parents and I that “sometimes it’s better if they don’t have names.”) Some years ago, she moved to Alaska. She loves it there. Her life is awesome and I’m happy for her. Over Christmas when she was in town, we talked about the guy she’s been seeing, who she could see marrying in a year or two.
Explain to me for which of these people sex was devastating. That’s right, the person who tied it up with shame and sin and misery. I don’t know whether my cousin’s wife was unhappy because my cousin is selfish as a lover or whether they are simply incompatible sexually. It happens. How irresponsible is it to commit to a lifetime with a person without any idea whether you will be sexually happy and fulfilled? How could you make someone you love miserable by not ensuring you could commit to making them happy? That seems like the sin to me.
*For the record, I really hate the virgin/whore false dichotomy. I’m using terms like prude and slut fully aware that they are tools of sex-based coercion and would never use them if I didn’t have a larger point about the public discourse about sex in general. The way our culture treats women as virgins/whores, there is nothing wrong with being labeled as immoral by theocratic assholes. Those who march is slutwalk demonstrations make that abundantly clear. The way I see it, a “slut” is simply more likely than not a happy fulfilled person and that makes me happy.
**I know that asexual people exist and I’m really not talking about them here.