[12/21/06: GREETINGS, SALON READERS! You're reading an old Dawn Patrol item that I wrote very late one night, many moons ago. My more recent blog entries are more reflective of my current views. Also, the theological topics I mention in this post come across better (and minus the bloggy snark) in my book; check out this online excerpt.]
The journalists who blog at GetReligion look for "religion ghosts" in news stories—parts of stories where the writer has conspicuously failed to address a religious or spiritual issue.
Elizabeth Sandoval's USA Today op-ed "A Neo-Feminist's View of Abstinence" has a religion ghost so big, you could drive a Mack truck through it.
The essay's an articulate explanation of why the author—who's 32 and single—believes women like herself should be abstinent until marriage. Its sentiments are surprisingly conservative for a mainstream newspaper. Sandoval delivers several smackdowns to popular culture, especially the inescapable "Sex and the City," and takes apart typical rationalizations for sex before marriage.
The ghost appears at the end of the piece, when Sandoval suddenly introduces her belief that sex has an essential spiritual component:
Women are non-self-respecting because they willingly sacrifice such an important part of their being for just a few moments of pleasure. And they're oblivious because they don't contemplate the profoundness of sex.I know why Sandoval saved that zinger for the end. Those who agree with her will know what she means about "the profoundness of sex" without her explaining. As for those who don't—well, Sandoval just doesn't have 2,000 words to explain the theology of the body.
Women give it up as if it's nothing. When in fact, it is everything.
Yet, even allowing for the limitations of space, there's an important spiritual fact of singlehood that's missing from her arguments: pain. Just before her observation on "non-self-respecting" sexually active single women, she writes:
Many women today are weak-minded in that they readily accept society's portrayal of sexual norms. The people on The O.C. are doing it. Paris Hilton, as she's hosing down that Bentley, appears ready to do it. And more important, many people they actually know are doing it.As a fellow chaste woman in her 30s, I know it's easy to write off sexually active singles as "weak-minded." But I don't think it's truly wise to do so, any more than it is for a recovering alcoholic to label his old drinking buddies as people who just need a little more will power. Sexual activity outside of marriage is a search for pleasure and, like alcohol or drug abuse, it is very often an attempt to escape pain.
In making a conscious decision to be chaste until marriage, one is not merely guarding one's heart, as Sandoval suggests. One is allowing oneself to be, in a sense, more vulnerable—because one has to find meaning elsewhere in one's life.
Keeping things casual in our casual-sex culture means divorcing sex from the aspects that physically bond people—the mixing of body fluids, the creation of new life. Two people merge antiseptically, their bodies touching but never risking lasting change in one another's life.
The jarring feeling of separation that a contracepting single woman feels after sex isn't just the perspective-shift from being connected to being apart. It's the realization, on a primal level, that even the most exciting contracepted intercourse is coitus interruptus. She hasn't fully given the gift of her body, neither has she allowed her partner to give all that he has to offer.
It's this contracepting culture that tells single women that because—like men—they can have sex without risk of pregnancy, they should likewise be able to have it without risk of emotional attachment. This is the Big Lie of the post-Pill age, and the fact that many women try to believe it doesn't make them "weak-minded," as Sandoval asserts. Rather, it shows that their desire is to be filled—not only in the physical sense, but in the sense of the proverbial God-shaped vacuum.