April 27, 2008

The Anchoress on Prude

I forgot to link to the John Hawkins interview with Carol Platt-Liebau a few days ago, but here it is. Her book is entitled Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!). The Anchoress discusses the book, quotes excerpts from the interview, and talks about what Platt-Liebau calls "do-me feminism."

I don't know exactly how to a take the ultra-pro-chastity lobby; they obviously have their points, but it's hard not to see their beliefs as part of the sexual double standard. I mean, I do get that the sexes aren't "equal" as regards sex, and never will be. After all—

- men don't get pregnant;
- men aren't as suceptible to STDs from women as women are to STDs from men;
- it is a simple matter for a woman to satisfy a man, and—relatively speaking—a challenge for a man to satisfy a woman;
- there really isn't much for a woman in casual sex. That is, there is even less for a woman in same than for a man.

On the other hand, I'm not too excited about the double standard, and the idea that woman are somehow "polluted" by sex in a way that men are not. There is that silly notion out there that a woman who has a lot of sex is a "slut," but that a man who is sexually weak is actually . . . strong. As I understand it, this idea was constructed by . . . oh, right. By men.

After all, men aren't "slutty." They are "virile."

I don't mind the fact that teenage girls are told that one might as well wait a bit for sex, just as one might wait a bit to tackle Russian novels. And the sex-saturated culture of the 1970s was downright abusive. What I don't like, however, is that one is very seldom told what a genuinely sober, thoughtful approach to long-term human sexuality is. Most SoCons seem more concerned with the notion of what it isn't.

It is as if one were told to avoid to the quicksand, but not how to ascend to the mountaintop. And the mountaintop is shrouded in mist, nearly invisible. Those who haven't seen it wave their hands and assure you that it's there. Those who have seen it simply tell you to "follow the signs." But the signs were destroyed by storms long ago; those of us who want to reach the peak are navigating by feeling around for moss on tree trunks, tracking the sun, and leaving Boy Scout-style landmarks for ourselves, so we'll know where we've already been.

There is no map; only a list of "must-nots." And a lot of second-hand testimony about long-term bliss that no one has actually seen, but everyone assures you exists.

Posted by Attila Girl at April 27, 2008 04:31 PM | TrackBack

The real problem with conservatives on the idea of sex is that they are still caught in the paradigm that sex is a necessary evil that is made tolerable by marriage. (Whereas liberals regard marriage as an unnecessary evil that is made tolerable by sex.)

The real truth is that the ideal sexual relationship is so supremely good that any departure from it is, by comparison, evil.

Posted by: John at April 28, 2008 05:18 AM

How about this as an approach to long-term sexuality:

Sex without love is empty.
And marriage is the ultimate expression of love.

Without love, sex becomes a selfish thing -- it's about my pleasure, not my partner's. Just about any partner would do, so what's wrong with "trading in" my partner for a more-attractive model? And so sex without love never forms long-term bonds, because everyone eventually gets older, and there are always young, hot twenty-somethings to pursue.

But when love -- genuine love, not lying and saying "I love you" just to get sex -- enters the picture, things change. Suddenly it's not about you, it's about your partner. What will please him or her? And intimacy enters the picture, too -- when you really care about someone, you want to spend time with them. Not to mention that there's almost nothing as personal and intimate as being naked, both physically and emotionally, with someone. And instead of sex being merely a means of physical pleasure, it becomes part and parcel of the glue that ties the relationship together.

So why do social conservatives (myself included) focus so much on marriage? Well, maybe it's because the ideal of marriage -- a lifelong commitment to the other person -- is the ultimate expression of love. Marriage, as it's supposed to be, says "I love you enough that I want to spend my whole life with you. I will not pursue any other woman (or man). I will make every effort to be there for you, meet your needs, and make you happy, not because some authority is telling me to, but because I love you and want the best for you. And I promise that I'll do this for the rest of your life -- or, if I die before you, for the rest of my life."

Now, we all know that many marriages fall far short of this ideal, sadly. Selfishness creeps in, or people lose sight of the long-term goal (lifelong commitment) and suddenly the screaming match over the latest credit card bill and how will we ever afford the kids' college in 15 years looms far larger in importance than the commitment you made at your wedding. But everything I've heard from happy older couples celebrating their 40th or 50th wedding anniversary says, "Sure there will be days when you feel like throwing in the towel. But if you let your commitment to the marriage outweigh your temporary feelings, and act with love towards your spouse even when you're not feeling the love right now, you'll find that the feelings of love return. Sure, maybe it'll take a few weeks or even a few months. But when you said 'As long as we both shall live' at the altar... did you really mean it? Then act on your commitment, and stick it out -- it's worth it in the long run."

That's not to say that every single person should stay in a bad marriage no matter what. If there's an abusive situation, for example, it probably isn't going to get better, and staying in the marriage isn't healthy. But for most marriages, where there isn't abuse but rather the strain and conflict of day-to-day life together -- for most marriages, sticking it out, and proving your love to your spouse by self-sacrificial actions (like getting up at 3:00 AM to change the baby so that your wife can have a few more hours of rest) works wonders for the long-term health of the marriage.

So there it is. That's the ideal that social conservatives are trying to hold up as the standard.

Posted by: Robin Munn at April 28, 2008 07:29 AM

Hm. I'm still seeing through a glass, darkly. I understand that that is what life is all about. And I acknowledge that if it weren't so, it would be hellishly boring.

And I'm desperately in love with my husband.

But I feel terribly handicapped by the fact that I've never seen a functional, non-abusive long-term relationship up-close. I've seen this done badly, but almost never done well.

Of course, I recognize that no one ever purrs as loudly when they are happy as they yelp when they are in pain--so one is always going to hear more about the failures and speedbumps than about the successes.

But I still long for that roadmap.

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 28, 2008 12:32 PM

Oooh, Attila Girl.

I know what you mean. Oh, boy, do I know what you mean.

My birth family was fairly non-functional. I was the younger of two boys. And I had no cousins that lived close. My greater family nearby were, well, kind of like the British royal family; frightfully polite, but never warm or loving.

I'm 47, and to this day, family dynamics baffle me. I have friends who are very loving, have five happy daughters, and I watch and marvel--but I have no idea how they do it.

Actually, I'm very lucky to have a wife who puts up with me and who tries hard to do the right thing. As do I. But I'd love that roadmap, too.

Posted by: Gordon at April 28, 2008 06:08 PM

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