Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ridculing others about sexuality

This weekend I’ve run into a couple of perspectives about one group judging another over different approaches to sex. One is in an interview with Mike Jones, the male prostitute who blew the whistle on Ted Haggard’s hypocrisy. Mr. Jones is surprised to have received only silence from gay rights groups. Apparently gay pride doesn’t extend to whores. It is hard to judge silence, of course, but Mr. Jones contrasts the silence to the multiple thanks he’s gotten from members of Mr. Haggard’s congregation for forcing Mr. Haggard to get the help he needs.

There is a quite verbal judgment of others on display at Feministing, where a link led me to see a sexual purity ball:

I thought about adding my comment to all those calling this incestuous, psychologically damaging, and so forth, but I suppose that would be pointless. I've never had good luck telling anyone that their ridicule of something is off base. Still I wish there were a way to let people who are so resentful about fathers standing in for God to let go of that anger. Teachers are in loco parentis. Someone has to stand in for God the same way. Parents are the obvious choice, and many cultures have chosen the father as the more obvious of the two parents. When girls pledge their sexual purity to their father, they are not promising incest with their father until they marry someone else. They are making a pledge of abstinence, one that they would make to God if God had a visual presence. I'm sure a pledge to their mothers would work equally as well, except mothers don't stand in for God in conservative religion. How vicious to call it incest.

At the same time I know of no study saying there is more psychopathology in girls who have given a pledge to sexual purity. Puberty is a tough time for everyone. Who knows what the best way is?

I've argued before with conservatives who said God's plan for everyone is no sex before marriage. Biology certainly didn't listen if God ever said that. Beyond that I have my own experience to say that God's plan may be more flexible. Circumstances were such that there was no chance for me to remain a virgin for very long when I started college in 1971. There were co-ed dorms. There were movies where everyone had sex on the screen, so why not later among the audience? There were drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Of course there was sex, too.

So I learned in college that I’m the kind of person who gets very attached to any woman I have sex with. To lose her is like having an arm ripped out. Some would call that immaturity or even pathology, yet it never went away. I’ve loved every woman I ever had sex with, even though maybe 70% of them proved they weren’t for me eventually. When I was in medical school, I even loved a woman I dated for a while who didn’t feel ready for sex again after the last time led to an abortion. I would go back in time and try again with her, not for sex, but for love.

I learned more about love before marriage because sex was so prevalent in the seventies. Was it helpful? Or would I have learned that just as well after marriage? I don’t know. My children taught me more about love, from the love they evoked from me, than anything that had gone before. So did I need to learn the intimacy that sex taught me before marriage, what I wouldn’t have learned if my subculture believed in no sex before marriage? Did the skill at intimacy help make me a good physician instead of a researcher? I don’t know.

It is amazing that there should be uncertainty about such a central part of life as sex despite so many thousands of years of experience with it. Yet it’s clear what the conflict is. Sexual desire is incredibly powerful, yet the way of just giving in to it is constantly tested with familiar results: abandonment, disease, untimely pregnancy, becoming stuck with a partner who’s not good for you. Of course these can happen to some degree after marriage, but aren’t these consequences a big part of why culture has tried to resist biology with respect to sex rather than it all being a patriarchy trying to control everyone else?

God’s plan for me didn’t involve my trying to run from my culture as much as it would have taken for my virginity to survive my freshman year of college. God's love hasn’t revolved around sex any more than it’s revolved around eating or around recreational drugs. Maybe a sexual purity ball is an overblown ritual. Maybe it is indeed what God wants for those involved. My daughters can say if my hands-off approach was better or worse for them. They might be wrong. How much do we know about what’s the best way for us? Is it really sensible to educate kids about sex and expect them to decide when they’re ready for sex? It may be the most realistic way of doing it, but that’s not a reason to refrain from asking questions.

Those who say God’s plan is no sex before marriage, for everyone, do not allow questions. It’s certainly an overblown claim. Those who say the best way is whatever feels good do not allow questions. That’s certainly just as wrong as it is just as oversimplified. The things I’m sure of on the subject of when best to become sexual is that puberty is overwhelming and that any aspect of culture meant to delay sex after puberty will be imperfect, yet there are good reasons to delay sex. And that’s just the start of where one can ask questions.

Some people would rather make judgments. It’s human nature. I wonder what our culture can do about that. Judgments may even cause more turmoil than sex does, and the good that comes from sex seems much more than anything good that comes from judgments. Since few take Matthew 7:1 seriously, how about rings to symbolize a commitment to withhold judgment, for everyone?

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