Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Value of Virginity

I wasn’t aware of this show, but like many reality TV series, with “Virginity Diaries” you get the feeling even from a description of the first episode, that the people, situations and results are all predetermined or edited in such a way that it looks as such without actually reflecting the full truth of it or they’re just purposely picked to polarize the issues they’re discussing. The intent appears to be showing viewers the lives of virgins or people who are thinking about their virginity and whether to save it before marriage or not. This remains a fairly contentious issue in culture, surprisingly, what with people up in arms over so many other things, like abortion or same sex marriage. I suppose if you’re concerned about marriage in general, then sex before marriage should fall under that umbrella. The term “fornication” refers to illicit sex done outside the bounds of wedlock in the Christian tradition. I’m, of course, more secular in my ethics and don’t care so much about sexual activity as long as it’s consensual (between people that understand the seriousness of the act and aren’t being taken advantage of) and responsible (is done in a way that prevents STDs and unwanted pregnancies and also clarifies if the sex is leisurely or more serious in nature before it is engaged in). I’m not really the most socially conservative person, contrary to what you would think from my upbringing in the South. As far as I can remember, my family and most relatives I’ve interacted with haven’t made public displays of affection very commonly. They almost implicitly disapprove of it, particularly when children are around, but not even when there are other adults around. This might not be just a thing that’s prevalent in the Southeast, but in older generations. There’s also the argument that it’s an American issue, since many European countries are far more emotionally open and expressive. There’s the kiss on the cheek for greetings to start things off, but American culture seems to regard many displays of affection, even simple ones like a kiss on the lips between lovers, as taboo in public. Hugs are encouraged many times, but this is also commonly done with a degree of restraint. Handshakes are seen as a more basic way to interact and show a sense of connection and trust without any intimate or close bodily contact. I’m going on a bit of a tangent, but a lot of this could be pertinent to the larger implications of what this show is doing. Even if it’s trying to be more open about the different perspectives on virginity, more conservative virgins might react the wrong way and think this is stereotyping both sides and saying that the more restrained are always sexually repressed and the outgoing are more liberated and normal by comparison. I can assure people that my virginity is by choice and not because I was told it was morally wrong. I won’t deny that it was an initial influence, but I choose to remain a virgin because I don’t think I should just give it up to anyone, and I am also not so disciplined or detached as some might be to have sex and then not go further with the person. Some may be able to do this, but I still have a bit of old fashioned ideas on sex, I suppose. This isn’t to say I find free love, swingers or open relationships immoral by some secular ethics. It’s more that people shouldn’t stereotype all virgins in the same way and recognize that virginity can be valid or invalid depending on the primary justification for maintaining it.

The distinction between mental and physical virginity and innocence versus temperance are both important. Physical virginity is a mere temporal state, and even Christian theologians could argue that the mere presence or lack of a hymen in a woman, for instance, does not make her more sinful in terms of sexual activity, particularly if she was raped. In that sense, her virginity is more mental in that she has only known a very crude form of sex instead of the intimate act it should be. Her soul is where her purity lies especially, and as Jesus noted, it isn’t what goes into someone that corrupts them, but what comes out of them. I’m aware of the crudeness of the analogy here, but the point remains that Christianity does at least, at its core, focus on internal things as opposed to the external, which is why it was probably appealing to Gnostics, who viewed the physical as sinful, which of course, was an exaggeration of the Christian position. Of course much of modern Christianity has become fixated on the external in the moralizing position on premarital sex and sexual activity in general, resembling Gnostics more than their classical counterparts. This is a form of “virginity” I would see as invalid as opposed to a more figurative virginity maintained even if one has already committed fornication or the like. To reference King of the Hill, a TV series set in Texas and referencing religion from time to time, one could become a “born again virgin” and avoid the stigma associated with a non virgin marriage. Innocence is fairly distinct from temperance in that the former is ignorance and the latter is discipline. Anyone can be innocent, but to have temperance is more valuable in the long run, since it allows you to resist temptations, whether you think they’re from the devil or just a natural part of life as relates to human desires. Innocence can also overlap with naivety and gullibility as well. The innocent are those that are easily taken advantage of, which also relates back to my discussion of physical and mental virginity. It is far better to not be a mental virgin if you want to maintain any sense of physical virginity. Simply knowing of sexual things does not mean you will be compelled to do them if you understand that self control is beneficial to others as well as yourself. To be innocent is a potential hazard, but to be disciplined is to prepare oneself for maturity, both physically and mentally.

A common reasoning for saving oneself before marriage is based on a religious morality, which, as I’ve argued many times, is fine and well to believe in, but does not demand the same respect as trying to give a more concrete and practical explanation for why you think casual sex is not conducive to marriage; not to mention it isn’t based in reality to begin with or even a pertinent one if the beliefs are even metaphysically true as relates to the existence of God or an afterlife. I’ll talk about cohabitation in my own perspective, but for now we’ll make a presumption that this virgin doesn’t even agree with initially celibate shared living before marriage. The position of celibacy and abstinence hinges on the idea that your marriage will lack intimacy if you have already bared your “soul” to people in prior conjugal acts. The basis for this is linked to the claim of humanity’s innate, or at least inborn. sin nature, which compels them to not follow God’s commandments and whatnot. There could be a point made that virginity is beneficial to society in that it keeps marriages at least more secure in not having adultery exposed and families broken up by that terrible betrayal of trust between two people. But the virginity advocated in this position seems fairly extreme and suppressed in its views of sex.  It believes sex can only be done properly, and more importantly, morally, in marriage. Not between two people who are committed to each other and haven’t been bonded together by any Christian marriage ceremony, maybe not even any religious or civil marriage ceremony or license, not between people who have divorced and remarried someone else (because that’s technically adultery according to Jesus in most cases, except infidelity or disbelief of a spouse), and definitely not between two people of the same sex (because according to this stance, they can’t get married to begin with).  I would hope virginity is not confused with innocence, which is far more psychological in nature than virginity, which can be so, but can be maintained even while knowing of “carnal” pleasures and such. Consummating one’s marriage and/or relationship is a big step, to be fair, but to think that the consummation has to be done with no prior experience, even just of the abstract, is ridiculous even by Christian standards, I’d imagine. One can know about how sex is done and commonly learn about it in middle school. But this doesn’t mean the adolescent should go out and have sex merely because they understand the theoretical and technical aspects of it. The applied and concrete manifestations of the conjugal act are far more wide reaching in their influence on a person’s life and should be considered with some foresight in mind and introspection about oneself. All in all, the idea of maintaining physical purity for marriage is fine if we’re talking preventing STDs or such, but it shouldn’t neglect that we are physical beings with physical senses and desires. Understanding them is important, even if we also do not impulsively act upon them.  That much I can find agreement with Christians and more socially conservative people in general.

My own position isn’t exactly on the opposite end of the spectrum, which probably stands on the line of free love, open love or something to that effect. It can be done right, but there seem to be bad examples, particularly with those that flaunt the practice instead of simply behaving in a civil manner towards those who might disagree with them if they figured it out in another way besides someone throwing it in a person’s face, which doesn’t send the right message to begin with. I personally am a virgin and would at least prefer to remain that way until I meet someone I feel I have a deep connection with. Sleeping with just anyone does at least seem to me wasteful of yourself, which is one of only a few points that I might agree with the more reserved on sexual matters. This isn’t to say that I want to be a virgin before marriage, at least physically so. I would probably have sex before marriage in a cohabitating set up with my partner. But we’d have to decide this ahead of time and also determine whether we are really ready for the responsibility involved with it. Probably a great many people aren’t virgins when they marry, either because it’s a shotgun wedding or people just generally have sex to experience it and get some practice before their honeymoon as it were. I don’t have stats on this, but I would imagine the true physical and mental virgins getting married are fairly small compared to mere physical or mere mental virgins getting married, either of which is preferable to complete innocence to something that is not a bogeyman to avoid, but at least accept, if not outright embrace tentatively. It’s one thing to become addicted to sex, which is missing the point of sex’s uniqueness as an act of intimacy and unity. But if I merely experience sex with someone as an experiment, it can lessen the significance of it, so the connection should be deeper than that from the start. That would be my principle: don’t jump headlong into sex, but don’t be averse to it before marriage as if that is the ultimate determinant of commitment between people, when it’s communication and trust overall that does that.

Sex is viewed by people in many ways and valued to a greater degree or less. Some people may have no real interest in sex to begin with and thus this article really wouldn’t apply to them. Some people might have a problem with pornography or promiscuity and this would apply to them as much as the person who has both never had sex and doesn’t want to until they’re married. And then there are people who take sex too casually and need a bit of a reality check.  A middle ground, like many other things, is ideal, though many people may be more disposed or amiable to at least some imbalance either towards too much or too little restraint. If you do save yourself, at least save yourself physically, if only because of the risk of casual sex causing you to contract STDs. But you shouldn’t resist or repress sexual thoughts and desires, since they’re part of you, even if you are also expected to control them as well. This is, I think, a fair compromise. On the one hand, you satisfy those who want people to be as pure as they can before marriage and you also give recognition to people who consider sex an integral part of the human condition. There can be some variability here, such as having sex before marriage or in lieu of marriage for cohabitation and/or common law marriage as well as having sex but encouraging protection, especially if the sex is more leisurely in nature. But the understanding that sex should be handled with care, but not kid gloves, should remain in some sense. Even open relationships should have boundaries and free love should have restrictions as well depending on which you choose. Sex is beautiful, but as good as it is, any good thing should be done in moderation, however you practice it: free love with mental discipline, polyamorous love with communication and monogamous love with acceptance of sex as a part of it, but not the whole of it. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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