Monday, July 31, 2017

Hold Those Hormones

I'm a follower of Christ, and I generally fall in line with the positions held by "conservative Christians" or "the Religious Right" (with a libertarian lean when it comes to government involvement), with a few notable exceptions, such as discouraging rather than encouraging men to legally marry, and not thinking that watching pixels of nude women and people appearing to have sex turns people into serial killers. I'm very familiar with the positions and reasoning used in these circles.

That brings me to something I find a bit frustrating, but I have to paint a detailed picture to explain it.

Here is a composite list of rules, based on what you can find in media featuring prominent leaders of this sort:

1) No masturbation. If you get an erection or get aroused or get horny, let it pass. Do something that diverts your mind and body away. Otherwise, it might lead to dancing. Just kidding about the dancing.

2) No "impure" thoughts. Impure can be a wide variety, but in this case we're talking about anything sexual (for unmarried people) or lustful. Avert your eyes, cover your ears, divert your mind, walk away from anything that involves or inspires or encourages such thoughts.

3) No sex before marriage. What the exact boundary is varies depending on who you ask, but Orthodox Jews (or at least some of them) exclude all touching (so not even holding hands), and there are others who agree, or at least say no kissing. The prevailing view among conservative Christians appears to be that kissing is as far as things should go. Like a lot of other rules on this list, clearly a lot of people who agree this is right don’t always live by it.

4) Actively seek a marriage partner. Unless you’re going into the Roman Catholic priesthood or will be a nun, not marrying is seen as shameful and unmarried people of a certain age are viewed as suspicious, like they are reveling in fornication or are adulterers-in-waiting, out to steal your spouse. Or, even worse, they might show your husband that a man can be unmarried and happy. You might be off the hook if you have same-sex attraction (that’s “being gay” to most people), but even people with same-sex attraction are encouraged and applauded for marrying someone (of the opposite sex). For most, actively seeking a spouse is supposed to mean chaste dating (where the guy pays money, but the woman doesn't put out), but some people insist dating is wrong and that “courting” or some systematic process other than a man and woman being alone in private or out on the town unaccompanied, is the proper way. There are women who take the approach of “I’m just going to wait quietly and patiently until the Lord brings me a husband.” Although, if they repeatedly announce they are taking that approach, it isn’t so quiet. Anyway, letting a guy know they’re interested in him might not be allowed under this approach. But notice you’ll never see these women saying “I’m just going to wait patiently to eat until the Lord brings me food and water.”

5) No marriage before being able to support a wife and kids (or finding such a man). This takes a lot longer now than it used to, and many people insist it isn’t possible nor desirable to divide the labor between breadwinning and homemaking, but you can still find this ideal in many traditionalist and religious circles. Some, like the late Frank Pastore, have raised the concept that this isn’t realistic if we expect people to abide by 1-3, so the possible solution is encouraging young marriages. Research seems to indicate people who marry childless for the first time in their later 20s will be less likely to divorce.

6) No marriage before two years together. Some people think that’s an impossibly long time to wait, especially given 1-3, but research appears to indicate it will reduce the likelihood of divorce, especially if there is 6-9 months of intense premarital counseling with a LMFT or some similarly licensed therapist.
7a) No contraception or 7b) abortion (no matter how early) unless the mother’s life is truly threatened. You should welcome as many children as you’re blessed to get. Abortifacients kill a conceived human being. True contraception prevents the conception of a human life in the first place. Some say contraception isn’t acceptable because “the Lord opens the womb and closes the womb”, but most of these people don’t just sit around accepting that the Lord opens holes in hearts and closes holes in hearts.
8a) It goes without saying that strict monogamy is expected. Threesomes, hot-wifing, swapping, swinging, polyamory, polygamy, exhibitionism/voyeurism is out of the question, although some will insist having sex outdoors is OK as long as you’re reasonably certain nobody is watching (with today’s technology, that’s now impossible). 8b) However, rule 2 still applies with the exception of it being encouraged for you to think of your spouse as they are now. You are never to look at anyone else or think about anyone else. This includes people depicted in pixels, and though you don’t hear about it as often, it would have to include characters depicted with words in print or audio. If you read some Christian marital or sexual forums, you'll see serious discussions about whether it is a sin to think about how your wife looked when you married her or even yesterday, while having sex with her.
9) Stay married until death. It is permissible to leave if there is cheating or beating. If you’re not compatible, you're just supposed to deal with that for the next 50+ years. What constitutes cheating is in dispute. Some would include having a flirtatious texting relationship or viewing porn. Although, claiming “porn addiction” or “sex addiction” can get someone (usually a husband) off the hook as long as they seek “treatment”.

10) Be a willing, frequent, and and enthusiastic lover to your spouse, within certain limits. Again, what those limits are vary. Some say light bondage is out of bounds, for example, or the use of any “marital aids” that resemble actual body parts.

So what's the problem?
Some people might reasonably argue that given 1-9, what we end up with is a complete suppression of sexuality from puberty until at least the latter 20s, sometimes into your later 30s or beyond. Given that, fulfilling rule 10 is often going to be extremely difficult. After all, what do you actively suppress every day of your life for 15+ years and then suddenly turn around and indulge with any bit of competence and effectiveness?

But you know what? Many of the people who believe this set of rules is the only right way don’t care if you have a difficult marital sex life, because the alternative is more children being raised in broken homes or institutions, more abortions, spreading STDs, people bonding with people they shouldn’t or staying in relationships that they shouldn’t, and, worst of all, people not marrying and/or having children and yet having fun outside the context of being a parent or spouse.

OK, so that’s a little unfair. Some are concerned, and they’ll sell you media and seminars to try to help. Although, no book and no couples weekend is going to overcome every situation in which at least one person in the couple is having trouble “unsuppressing”.

I fully agree rule 3 prevents a lot of ills, but it isn’t without tradeoffs, and we should be honest about that, especially if we expect people to live by 9. We should be upfront and honest that it is entirely possible you will make vows with someone and become legally joined, only to discover that you’re irreconcilably incompatible when it comes to sex, and so you’re never going to be consistently satisfied in your sexual urges. You’ll die that way, having never experienced sex anywhere near as good as you could have. That's a real risk and it does happen to some people.
Some traditionalists, and social or religious conservatives insist on some of these rules, but not others. For example, Dr. Laura staunchly encourages tradition, but would not expect anyone to live by rules 1-2, 8b, 9 (if there are no children together yet). She explicitly encourages going against 1 and 8b, but then, her show is not a religious one. Various conservative religious commentators don’t include rules 1, 4, 5, 6, or 7a, depending on who they are.

The Christian ideal is perfect purity, in both thought and action, which Christianity also says none of us achieves in this life (only Jesus was an is without sin, although traditional Christianity says Jesus never married). So it is entirely reasonable that Christians would promote a rule as true and the right way even if they haven’t always lived up to it. If anyone actually lives by all of these rules, it is a very small number of people. I’d think if someone did live by all of these, and they were honest, they’d admit that marital lovemaking was not great at first; that it took a long time for things to get good (if they ever did). Oh, they might have thought they were good at first, because they are comparing it to... nothing. A starving man is going to think plain steamed white rice is delicious, even if it is crunchy. Likely, there are a lot of problems. But you know what? The kind of people who did things this way will claim that those problems were blessings because it was something they had to work through as a couple ("It made us grow!"). Funny, though, they never ask to be dropped in a remote jungle together, where they can work through getting back to civilization together.

Clearly, again, a lot of social and religious conservatives don’t always live by all of these. But like I said, they might still say they are the correct way to live.
This entry is long enough, so I’m not going to argue further about the rules, other than say I don’t agree with 1, 7a, and I now actively oppose 4. I think most people should not get married. Actually, I’m more open than ever to the idea that 3 is, in some ways impossible: that someone can become married through sex (or at least intercourse) and the law can take a hike. ("Well then what is adultery?" It's disrupting the bloodline, or "adulterating" the bloodline, meaning paternity fraud. We have DNA tests now.)

When the Bible was written, people were marrying at, like, age 12 or in their teens and dying in what is now middle age. This doesn’t mean any rules that are actually taught in the Bible as enduring moral boundaries are wrong. We just need to be honest about what we’re insisting our children and other people do, and have practical perspectives.

It’s not helpful to respond to “It’s so hard to have sex now that we have kids.” or "Marriage is so hard!" with “Ha ha, yeah, it’s like that. Didn’t anyone tell you? Well, you’re just going to have to deal with that. Your parties sure were nice!” It’s ridiculous to harp on a husband who is ogling centerfolds (a supposed violation of 8b) when his wife is sexually rejecting him (rule 10), but can she really be blamed if she had to suppress every sexual thought for 15 years? People violating rule 1 is preferable to them violating rule 3 and then rule 7b.

Anyone is welcome to comment, as always, but I'll be especially interested in what others who are "traditional" or "religious or social conservatives", or used to be, have to say.

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