Hey, what’s this elephant doing here in this room?

December 17, 2006 | Birth Control | 10 comments

I was glad to see this article in the WSJ Opinion Journal (via Adoro Te Devote) about how women exercising “sexual freedom” never quite works out like it’s supposed to. Some excerpts:

Unfortunately, the young women described in “Unprotected” have fallen victim to one of the few personal troubles that our caring professions refuse to treat or even acknowledge: They have been made miserable by their “sexual choices.” […]

Thus the danger of sexually transmitted diseases is too often overlooked in the lifestyle choices of the young women at the unnamed college where the author works. But the dangers go far beyond the biological. […]

The author meets patients who cannot sleep, who mutilate themselves, who exhibit every symptom of psychic distress. Often they don’t even know why they feel the way they do. As these girls see it, they are acting like sensible, responsible adults: They practice “safe sex” and limit their partners to a mere two or three per year.

They are following the best advice that modern psychology can offer. They are enjoying their sexual freedom, experimenting, discovering themselves. They can’t understand what might be wrong. And yet something is wrong. […]

“Look at how different health decisions are valued, ” the author advises. “When Stacey avoids fatty foods she is being health conscious…When she stays away from alcohol, she is being responsible and resisting her impulses. For all these she is endorsed for keeping long-term goals in mind instead of giving in to peer pressure and immediate gratification. But if she makes a conscious decision to delay sexual activity, she’s simply ‘not sexually active’–given no praise or endorsement.”

If anything, the more “transgressive” the behavior, the greater the reluctance to judge. On a University of Michigan Web site, “‘external water sports’ is described as a type of ‘safer sex.'” (The phrase has nothing to do with a swimming pool.)…The sexual advice blog “Go Ask Alice, ” sponsored by Columbia University, provides helpful hints to students on menages a trois (“Nothing wrong with giving it a try, so long as you’re all practicing safer sex”), swing-club etiquette and phone sex (“Getting Started”).

I was in my early 20’s at the height of the Sex and the City craze and saw this sort of thing play out over and over again: girl meets guy she doesn’t know very well –> girl sleeps with guy she doesn’t know very well –> girl tells herself and everyone else that she’s totally cool with this –> girl is actually conflicted and unhappy about it.

Having a lot of female friends and hearing the intimate details of their lives actually convinced me early on, even before I had any sort of belief in God, that we’d been sold a bill of goods on this whole so-called sexual freedom thing. Whether it’s just evolution or something given to us by God or both, for whatever reason, it’s just not good for women’s mental health to have no-strings-attached sex. (Not that it’s good for men either, of course, but it seems to be disproportionately detrimental to women.)

I’m glad to see this article in the WSJ, that people are starting to point out the painfully obvious, age-old truth that having casual sex and/or lots of sexual partners makes women miserable. As the article points out, women in secular culture hear one-sided information. For fear of sounding sexist or judgmental, nobody wants to tell women that they, in particular, should treat sex as a serious matter and aim for chastity; even abstinence education programs tend to make vague, blanket statements applied to both genders equally. Hopefully this message will get out there more and more before yet another generation of women is led down this path that leads to emptiness and depression.

10 Comments

  1. Martin

    This is exactly what Dawn Eden’s new book “The Thrill of the Chaste” is about.

  2. Anonymous

    I have felt for some time that the only sexual behavior that is not acceptable in our culture is celibacy. How sad!

    I will never forget my first gyn exam when I was 18 and about to head off to college. I was having the exam because I was having some menstrual problems. During the interview the doctor asked me if I wanted birth control, and I said “no, I don’t need it.” She then asked me if it was because I was gay! Apparently being gay is more normal or acceptable than being an 18 year old that is simply not having sex.

  3. Mike J

    So people go against wisdom that has been widely known to every generation of humanity, and it turns out harmful to them. Well I’m stunned. Whodathunkit?

    I must admit though that the cover up of info is impressive. Want biological research on diseases that follow promiscuity? Want retrospective, statistically structured surveys on psychological and sociological sequelae to non-chastity? It’s out there. In fact, if you spent a few days digging up the material and printed out just the summaries or abstracts of it all, you wouldn’t be able to carry all the paper.

    Proving once again that careful, extensive, and diligent scientific research can prove what any sensible person knew all along.

    But let neither science nor sense enter into the argument; nor worse yet, into the lives and conduct of young people who are in the midst of those critical years where they make most of the decisions that affect the rest of their lives.

  4. Radical Catholic Mom

    Boy, Joanne! I hear you! How many of us women hear it ALL the time.

    I went through so many ob/gyns until I could find one who respected and trusted me.

    If you think not having sex is bad, try not using ANY artificial contraception. Say “We Natural Family Plan.” That is a whole other post!

  5. Anonymous

    Isn’t emphasizing the special cost of promiscuity to girls what got us in this whole mess in the first place?

    Because males did not have as many effects from promiscuity, society gave them much more freedom to choose their lifestyle than it gave to females. This was rightly viewed as discriminatorily repressive. And the reaction, instead of increase social pressures on males to act respectfully toward females, was to equal the tables the other way.

    Going back to the way things were in the fifties is not going to fix what is wrong with society – that social structure was not sustainable (and certainly not “known to every generation of humanity” – historical chastity until marriage has been pretty strictly confined to the females of the upper classes in Europe and Asia, and was never the norm in most African cultures)

    Along another line, considering the state of the American waistline, and the way-too-high alcohol-related automotive deaths, I hardly think our society puts positive pressure in those directions as the article implies (it’s manly to be able to eat the most food – people who don’t drink to drunkenness are wimps…) Support or derision or apathy on the topic of sexual abstinence is equally varied as support or derision or apathy concerning overeating or excess alcohol consumption. And while Go Ask Alice may not advocate abstinence until marriage, it is certainly supportive of abstinence as a valid lifestyle choice at any point in a person’s life (see for example Am I the only one not doing it?).

  6. Mike J

    lyrl,
    Good job pointing to the “Go Ask Alice” letters where abstinence is affirmed. It seems to me that abstinence is less belittled now that it was 15-25 years ago, when I was in college. Maybe a little progress is being made.

    Had some questions/thoughts on some other things you said.
    > Isn’t emphasizing the special cost of promiscuity to girls what got us in this whole mess in the first place?< Not sure what you mean here, but it seems it would be very hard to assess at any rate. I mean you’d have to define just what “mess” we are in, when we got into it, what “tidiness” we were in before, etc. Then of course there’d be the question of whether we ever really were not in a “mess”. The more I study history, the more I find that all sorts of immoralities (including out-of-wedlock-whoopee) are rather endemic to the human race.

    > Because males did not have as many effects from promiscuity, society gave them much more freedom to choose their lifestyle than it gave to females. This was rightly viewed as discriminatorily repressive. And the reaction, instead of increase social pressures on males to act respectfully toward females, was to equal the tables the other way.< A sad, but apt summation of the situation. > historical chastity until marriage has been pretty strictly confined to the females of the upper classes in Europe and Asia< That would be exceedingly tough to back up with viable, primary, historical evidence. Are you aware of such sources? If so, could you please let me know. I’m a bit of a history buff, so I’m always interested in solid sources. Especially in areas where I’ve not found them previously. > Along another line, considering the state of the American waistline, and the way-too-high alcohol-related automotive deaths, I hardly think our society puts positive pressure in those directions as the article implies< A decent point. Americans are well known for being the fattest people on the planet. I do think though that there has been some success in the campaigns against alcohol, smoking, overeating, etc. Just as one ‘for instance’, look at the rampant success of the anti-smoking campaigns. A mere 20 years ago, you found smokers just about anywhere. Now they are outside, smoking in the wind and rain. Restaurants, planes, offices, all sorts of places are smoke free. Amazingly, even Europe is going that way. It took a long time to get there though. I think these sort of society-wide campaigns have to take time. A problem must be identified and analyzed. Then solutions must be suggested and assessed, and perhaps even tried out (and possibly scrapped or reworked if they fail). Then the arduous process of making a whole society aware of the problem (perhaps even having to convince them that it is a problem). Then putting forth the solution(s) and then getting those solutions implemented. And there’s often a resistance movement to deal with. (Witness the “it’s fine to be fat” movements, or the “smoker’s rights” movements. All in all it’s a long and difficult process. Depending on the problem, it may even take generations to work it out. (Think slavery.) But if a cause is important enough, then it’s worth all that effort. I happen to be one of many who think that promiscuity is harmful enough on a number of levels, to take a stance against it. And I rather expect that any significant inroads against it will only be made over a time frame that will exceed my life-span. (And I could say the same about overeating and drinking.) * Mike once again looks down to see that he’s up on the soapbox.* OK. Enough sermonizing for one morning. Thanks for bringing up some good points lyrl.

  7. Jennifer F.

    Going back to the way things were in the fifties is not going to fix what is wrong with society.

    It’s interesting that the 1950’s are always cited in these sorts of debates. That’s not what I was thinking of — I think that that was actually a really difficult period for women and would agree that we should not aim for the social norms of that era. I don’t even think it would be necessary to tell women that they absolutely *must* save sex until they’re married…I just think that there should be a more open dialogue about the fact that they should take sex seriously and not try to act like men in those matters.

    historical chastity until marriage has been pretty strictly confined to the females of the upper classes in Europe and Asia

    Really? I’ve studied anthropology quite a bit and have not seen that. Per Mike J’s question, could you refer us to some sources?

    That said, I am certain that female promiscuity has never been encouraged or even accepted by any culture other than our own. In the days before birth control and paternity tests that just wouldn’t make sense. Maybe what you’re referring to with that statement is that other cultures had different definitions of “marriage” that are more flexible than our own?

    Anyway, these are interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing that perspective.

  8. Anonymous

    As far as Mike’s questions about what I meant by “mess,” he seems to have taken it entirely as I intended.

    I hope that progress is being made with respect to abstinence. Being only 25, I don’t have any basis to judge whether attitudes are changing. My personal views are not that non-marital sexual activity is inherently bad, but that abstinence is currently undervalued nevertheless.

    I do not think that specifically directing an abstinence message at women will have any long-term positive impact. It implies that it is OK for men to be promiscuous. Unless a society is set up where it’s most common for men to be promiscuous with other men, rather than with women (and there is historical precedent for that in ancient Greece and Rome), such a societal attitude of its-worse-for-women is bound to result in unfair inequality.

    You two are correct to call me on my broad historical generalization. No, I do not have sources to entirely support it. But equally, the following is untrue:

    female promiscuity has never been encouraged or even accepted by any culture other than our own.

    As far as accepted, it depends on your definition of promiscuity – is it sex with lots of people? Or just premarital sex? From “A History of the Wife,” in medeival Europe,

    Country youth found opportunity in forests, fields, and haystacks for premarital dalliance. Numerous couples did not bother to marry until the female had proved her fertility by becoming pregnanct. Childbirth soon after marriage carried little shame, and even the stigma of illegitimate birth does not seem to have been very strong in peasant society.

    Between 1500 and 1700, It has been estimated that between 20 and 30 percent of brides arrived at the altar pregnant.

    Only high-class families had the resources to enforce celibacy on their daughters, and they (unlike the peasant families) actually had significant material possesions they wanted to ensure were correctly inherited through the paternal line.

    As far as encouraging, I am certain I have heard of societies (I believe in Africa) where older women are expected to teach pubescent boys how to have sex. Because of the culturally-expected promiscuity, such societies never made the connection between sex and pregnancy. Inheritance and power followed the matrilineal line. And even in societies that did make the sex-pregnancy connection, if matrilineal inheritance was the norm there would have been little reason to discourage female promiscuity. I’m remembering a NOVA program, and also a book I have mentions something similar in passing. From p. 36 of “Good Natured” by Frans de Waal,

    Some cultures disapprove of premarital sex, whearas others encourage it as part of a healthy sexual education.

    I would wholeheartedly agree with Mike’s statement that Then of course there’d be the question of whether we ever really were not in a “mess”. But like him I do have hope that we will make progress (over generations if need be) and eventually have a society that overwhelmingly that has both enough respect for its collective bodies and sufficient support and resources for each other to not do harm to said bodies with cigarettes, drunkenness, overeating, promiscuity, etc.

    Thank you for listening and responding to my previous comments. I’ve enjoyed reading your intelligent and well-informed thoughts on this issue.

  9. Jennifer F.

    Lyrl –

    Very interesting. I’ll have to think about some of the points you’ve made. Thanks for your thoughts!

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