Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sex and scallops

Everyone knows the only way to keep high school students "pure" is to make sure they have no social skills whatsoever, and that they go around carrying bookbags filled with so many math and science books that they cannot stand up straight, no matter how hard they try. But not everyone can go to Stuyvesant, so for the rest of American teens, who would otherwise be gettin' some, there are purity rings, sort of like chastity belts for the finger, except that they aren't only supposed to regulate the actions of one's fingers. Seems these rings are being marketed as either Christian or secular jewelry, the idea being that even the most godless individuals have good reason to save themselves for marriage.

What's always confused me about abstinence-only education is that its goal is not just to prevent teen sex--a reasonable if not entirely wise aim--but to prevent all premarital sex, even among adults. This now apparently includes preventing "a physical relationship that causes you to be 'turned on' sexually." While this is all well and good if you get married the day after prom, what if you don't? How weird would it be to reach 20, 30, 40... and still... nothing. Not even a moment at first base, just because you didn't meet anyone you wanted to marry, or because it was too confusing whether someone was a good candidate for marriage or just for other things. I have no idea, in the American Christian context, which behaviors that lead to being "turned on" are off-limits, as even looking at a person in a certain way might have that effect, so this all seems far too involved...

For religion, people do all sorts of crazy things, repress all sorts of urges, etc. Religion gives a reason beyond disease and pregnancy to keep people from having sex. That pregnancy can easily be prevented with the simultaneous use of two near-perfect birth control methods is irrelevant if you think God will strike you down for premarital hand-holding. That abstinence prevents certain negative (as well as positive) physical and emotional outcomes is true for all, religious and secular; that it keeps you "pure" is something only understood by those with certain religious convictions.

Somewhat tangentially, this is where I disagree with the (rest of) the left: I believe that there are individuals, gay and straight, who are actually happier abstinent than sexually active, because it would be so upsetting to them to indulge that it would cancel out any pleasure sex would bring them. I don't think sexual desires are somehow inherently stronger than religious fervor, so if a desire for "purity" exceeds one for sex, that's the desire that wins out. Of course, I say this from the perspective of someone who is completely secular, so perhaps I'm wrong, but I think many secular, liberal types like myself make the mistake of thinking that everyone who doesn't have many sexual experiences, preferably with both sexes, is somehow miserable. I say this not out of some all-encompassing idea of moral equivalence--I do not believe that if someone's religion dictates female genital mutilation, beating women, etc., that that's fine, too--but out of a sense that different people want different things for different reasons, and to assume a healthy, fulfilling sex life is everyone's first priority is unfair.

Which brings me to the ever-fascinating concept of "shomer negiah," a concept which apparently, I realize upon Googling it, has its own blog. I suspect the (anonymous) blog may be somewhat fictional, but regardless, people like the "shomer negiah" blogger probably exist, so it makes for an interesting, if unreliable, read. I don't know anyone personally (well, obviously not "personally") who observes this rule, so I'm not sure how it works on a day to day basis, how often it's broken, whether hand-holding is as sinful as a cheeseburger, etc., but it seems to fit quite well with what the "purity ring" contingent expects of unmarried Christians. It's a way of going above and beyond plain old "abstinence," in part so as to make extra-certain that abstinence is the result, but also in part to show yourself to be an extra-hardcore believer, even beyond what most would think the religion in question demands. It's sort of like saying that not only is shrimp non-kosher, but so is romaine lettuce that might contain bugs (hat tip: Sam), or even tap water that may contain non-kosher microorganisms. Of course, sexual restrictions are typically more fraught than dietary ones--while there are surely more opportunities, during a typical day for a typical person, to eat non-kosher food than to engage in premarital sex, a happy life can be led wihtout eating any number of foods, whether for religious, health, or squeamishness reasons, whereas a sex-free life, while perhaps the best or even only option for the super-religious and single, is going to be a bit more problematic.

Which brings me to this, which I found via Gawker. I don't quite know what to make of it, other than the fact that this Andrew Krucoff fellow's expression is... exactly what you'd expect of a man watching otherwise modest young girls going wild. The whole Catholic schoolgirl thing apparently works even when the girls are Jewish; all the better if they observe a law forbidding them even the slightest physical contact with men, and yet for some reason are taking part in a wet-t-shirt (well, wet-skirt, too) contest.

Is there a point to all this? Surprisingly, yes: While it's perfectly legitimate to abstain from premarital sex if you feel this goes against your own (almost always religious) principles, if you are just some random teenager or single adult, there's no reason you should be inundated with this rhetoric of "purity." The concept of "purity" is not only inherently religious, but it must be specific to a particular faith one adheres to, rather than to a generic Judeo-Christian idea that premarital sex is wrong. So a "secular purity ring" is not, in fact, possible.

16 comments:

petey said...

"That pregnancy can easily be prevented with the simultaneous use of two near-perfect birth control methods..."

Ick. Does anyone on the planet actually bother with two birth control methods simultaneously?

There's a reason god invented abortion, y'know.

Anonymous said...

"Somewhat tangentially, this is where I disagree with the (rest of) the left: I believe that there are individuals, gay and straight, who are actually happier abstinent than sexually active, because it would be so upsetting to them to indulge that it would cancel out any pleasure sex would bring them."

I agree that there's probably quite a few people like this. But I would also suggest that highly religous people and/or people who live in very repressive environments might derive more pleasure from sex than your average secular new yorker due to the forbidden fruit aspect. Certainly there's a long tradition of this sort of feeling among the saints and poets. Donne being a prime example.

Anonymous said...

Forbidden fruit aspect
Of course that's important, how else are the June Cashes of our generation supposed to be inspired to write classics like Ring of Fire?!

From the eleveneth comment in the linked site: "Anyway, innocuous contact leads to mixed dancing and etc."

Why did the Baptists ban premarital sex? They were afraid it might lead to dancing. Ba dum dum.

Phoebe said...

Petey--yes, people do bother with this.

Anonymous 1--Sure, repression might make the eventual sex more exciting, at least initially. But if the repression comes from being gay, and an individual does not allow himself to ever, ever have sex with men, or if the individual is straight but never marries, the "eventual" excitement is a non-issue.

Anonymous said...

Masturbation is an alternative to intercourse, but is seen as a sinful act?

Phoebe said...

"seen as a sinful act" by whom? Christians? Jews?

See "Trembling before G-d" for an interesting answer to the latter.

ck said...

The women on the Jewlicious post were not involved in a wet t-shirt contest! They had just taken a long hike up Wadi Arugot and got to a giant cooling waterfall. They did what anyone else with any sense would do - they had fun and cooled off. There's something to be said about the hotness of negiah and family purity laws in Judaism. Yes, it seems a tad un natural but so is not eating bacon. Those women, who seemed totally normal and well balanced, were possessed of an innate hotness that could not be replicated or surpassed with mini-skirts, halter tops and thongs. Just something to think about I guess.

Phoebe said...

"The women on the Jewlicious post were not involved in a wet t-shirt contest!"

If they knew Krucoff was looking, then it sort of counts, shomer negiah or not.

ck said...

I gotta tell ya Phoebes. Those women were prepared. Yes, they were soaked to the skin and yet ... there wasn't a single nipple visible anywhere. nothing, nada, zilch. Those women remained as tzenua as can be. I don't know how they did it,I guess they teach them all kinds of tricks at seminary.

thatlydiagirl said...

Wow, that's fascinating...

I respect the tradition of shomer negiah, and i'm sure it helps some people. But i wonder (not that it matters, these are the traditions of another faith and that's just that): Does it ever cause more problems than it prevents? Are any couples ever severely hampered in their married life by never having been able to touch a person of the opposite sex? And, do the strict orthodox jews truly and really do it thru a hole in the sheet? Ye gods...

It also makes me wonder, pruriently, whether or not it engenders a great deal of lesbian or lesbian-like activity among the young women, who might see that as a way of sexual outlet that would not break shomer negiah. Things to wonder about.

Anonymous said...

Well I looked up trembling before g-d.
It only muddled my understanding
Clear up the "is masturbation a sin in the judeo christian tradition" business for me phoebe.

gabbiana said...

Re: "Ick. Does anyone on the planet actually bother with two birth control methods simultaneously?"

Yes, everyone I know who's on the pill and uses condoms. Condoms with spermicide.

Re: "Are any couples ever severely hampered in their married life by never having been able to touch a person of the opposite sex? And, do the strict orthodox jews truly and really do it thru a hole in the sheet?"

I'm voting for "no" on the hole-in-the-sheet thing; I'm not orthodox, though, so I can't speak from any proximity to that tradition.

Regarding the "causing problems" aspect... Again, I'm not orthodox, but I've often found the frumsex message boards on yahoo illuminating.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

"Ick. Does anyone on the planet actually bother with two birth control methods simultaneously?

There's a reason god invented abortion, y'know."

If I were single, and sleeping with various guys, I sure as hell wouldn't tell them it would be fine and dandy for them to forgo the condoms, because, after all, there's a reason god invented abortion. Two birth control methods simultaneously seems the obvious thing to do in that situation.

OrthoChic said...

Orthodox Jews definitely DO NOT have sex through a hole in a sheet. I know people in their late twenties who are shomer negiah and unmarried, and it seems that the shomernegiah blog is probably real.

Anonymous said...

to all those who believe in the "hole in sheet" myth, here is the low down. though there are some rules about sex. according to The Code Code Of Jewish Law during relations, both the man and woman must be completely unclothed. This is because the Torah wants the husband and wife to be as intimate as possible, without anything separating between them. some belive the myth got started by

Anonymous said...

some believe the myth got started by christans(the same who thought we ate their children) when they saw the tzitzit katan(religios undergarment which has a whole in the middle for the head and for corners with fringes.
I am a married orthodox woman and in all my life i have never heard of such a practice.