Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Women on the virgin

Elizabeth Kantor of Human Events' Right Angle blog offers a three-part response to my criticism of the way that she and another writer promote female virginity on its own rather than promoting virginity for both sexes. (I also criticized the writers' emphasis on virginity rather than chastity, something she touches on only in passing.)

I'm in complete agreement with the first part and the second part of her response. The second evokes G.K. Chesterton and St. Francis de Sales with its insights into Christian history, capped off with the persuasive assertion, "If we want to keep or restore the parts of the Christian sexual ethic that seem attractive to us, hadn't we better be careful about rejecting the parts that we don't find attractive, or don't understand?"

The final part of Elizabeth's response, however, fails to convince me that there is good reason to promote virginity for women more than for men. She writes:

Now, we can all agree that bad sexual behavior is equally wrong for men and women. If a double standard means giving men permission to behave badly, that can't be right. But if it means reminding women that there are special reasons for them to take chastity seriously, I'm all for it.

Just because fornication is equally wrong for men and women, does it follow that it's equally harmful in every particular?

Men and women have equal souls, but they don't have the same biologies or psychologies.
She backs up her argument by noting that women can get pregnant and are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases that can damage their fertility, adding, "We're fertile — and sexually attractive — for a shorter period of time."

The Argument from Short-Term Sexual Attractiveness completely eludes me as a reason for virginity until marriage.

As for the other reasons Elizabeth offers, they still fail to convince that virginity should be promoted to women more than it should be to men. For one thing, if men are left to their own devices, they'll still get sexually transmitted diseases and pass them on to the few poor women who didn't get the virginity memo. But more than that, while the assumption that fornication doesn't hurt men as much as it hurts women may be true on a psychological level, it is certainly not true on a spiritual level. Any Catholic priest will tell you that the sin is the same regardless of whether a man or woman commits it. Elizabeth makes it clear that her promotion of virginity is based upon her faith. Taking the sinfulness of fornication into account would seem to require her all the more to emphasize virginity for both sexes alike.

I say that fornication may be less psychologically harmful to men. Truthfully, however, with regard to the "Sex and the City" question — "Can a woman have sex like a man?" — I am no longer convinced that a man can "have sex like a man," let alone a woman. When I think back upon the men I have known who have had premarital sex, none of them escaped being damaged by it. Perhaps they were not damaged in ways that psychologists measure, such as the tendency to suicide and depression (though a 2003 study did find that — sexually active teenage boys as well as girls had a higher rate of depression than abstinent teens), but I believe they were damaged in other ways, such as being:
  • Less able to achieve intimacy in relationships
  • Less able to maintain long-term relationships
  • More likely to seek out pornography
  • Less secure in their faith
  • Less mature
  • Less able to choose and focus upon long-term life goals
To promote virginity for women (or what I would advocate, chastity, which is attainable for both virgins and nonvirgins) while leaving men as a secondary concern gives men up to suffer the consequences of their premarital sex while forcing women to fend for themselves against poorly catechized men. This is something akin to treating only half of a swimming pool with chlorine.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor. Sometimes that means sounding an alarm where everyone can hear it — not just those whom we may think need the message most.