Friday, May 11, 2007

Speech to New York City Young Republican Club, May 10, 2007

[Many thanks to those who attended my talk last night; it was a great pleasure to speak to the club and meet people there. Because I speak most frequently to Christian audiences, this talk was an opportunity to emphasize psychological and moral arguments for chastity rather than religious teachings (though I didn't completely avoid discussing faith). — Dawn]

Good evening.

I’d like to thank Daniel Peterson, Robert Hornak, and the rest of the Young Republican leadership for having me here tonight. Since my book came out last December, I’ve been speaking about it throughout the country, including Dallas, Cincinnati, and Washington , D.C., but it’s always a thrill to speak in my hometown. I’m especially happy to be speaking to young Republicans, being one myself.

As a matter of fact, it’s unusually appropriate for me to be speaking here about chastity, because when I first attended New York Young Republican meetings about five years ago, right here in this very room, I came here with the intention of finding a sex partner.

Now, I didn’t think of it that way. I thought that I might meet a man I might date, and that as we got closer, we would begin to fall in love, and as we did that, we would have sex, and all that would eventually lead us to wedding vows. But it didn’t happen that way. Why it didn’t happen is one of the subjects of my book.

First, I should explain what chastity is. It’s most often confused with abstinence, but the two are not the same.

Part of chastity entails the proper ordering of sexual pleasure – which does mean having sex only with marriage. But more than that, chastity is really a way to look at all your relationships so that they no longer become mere exchanges of commodities.

Abstinence is ultimately a negative, because it focuses on avoidance. Chastity is positive, because it focuses upon personal growth. It requires learning to view others as unique individuals, rather than objects. It takes into account human dignity. It means a level of respect that is light-years beyond, “I’ll still respect you in the morning.”

The character qualities chastity develops — including patience, temperance, and selflessness — are essential for a lasting marriage. For that reason, the married who follow the ideals of chastity, even though they have sex, may still be called “chaste.”

People ask me why I wrote a book on chastity for the unmarried. My first answer is that, back when I first made the decision to stop having sex until I’m married, I had no guidance. There was nobody I knew my own age who had made such a radical change, and there were no books by women who had quit the “Sex and the City” lifestyle. So, once I got the hang of chastity and found it was truly more fulfilling than sex outside marriage, I wanted to spread the word – first with my blog, The Dawn Patrol, and then with my book.

But there’s another reason why I started blogging up a storm about chastity. At the time I started writing about it, three years ago, I was known as a pro-life blogger. My blogging made me a favorite target of feminist bloggers like Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, who would spout torrents of four-letter words about what a horrible wingnut I was for upholding life.

Once I started blogging about chastity, those same feminist bloggers became livid. They could make easy fun of Christians who touted virginity and abstinence ‘til marriage. But for a former New York City hipster who had reveled in a life of nonmarital sex to turn around and say, “Guess what, ladies – you’ve been cheated” – that was more than Amanda and her pals could bear.

As you know, being Republicans in New York City, there is the so-called counterculture – the feminists, global-warming fanatics, gay-marriage proponents, abortion activists, and so on – and then there is the real counterculture. The real counterculture are those who are working to preserve the moral values that are at the foundation of western civilization. As a longtime rebel, I was attracted to chastity because where the real counterculture lies, chastity is pretty close to ground zero.

“The Thrill of the Chaste” is aimed primarily at single women – although I’ve been very happy to learn that men get something out of it too. It’s the first book on chastity written by a woman whose chastity is the result of a lifestyle transformation.

I grew up Reform Jewish. My parents split up when I was five, and I was raised by my mother. Like a lot of divorcees in the 1970s, my mother set about trying to find herself. She tried to find herself through various New Age movements – and through various men.

As a child, watching my mother go from one guru to another, I got disillusioned and I lost what little faith I had. But what stayed with me was what my mother taught me by her sexual behavior. By her sleeping over at her boyfriends’ homes, my mother taught me that sex was just something grown-ups did because they wanted to. Marriage had nothing to do with it. There was nothing sacred about marriage, and nothing sacred about sex.

When I left home for NYU, it seemed like the whole world echoed with the messages I had learned growing up. Practically all the major movies, all the network TV shows, all the women’s magazines presented sex in a consumeristic fashion.

Now, I know that sex sells, but we as Republicans believe that human beings were not made to be bought and sold; we were the first party to recognize that. Yet the message popular culture gives to young and old is that sex is simply one more item on the consumption menu of life. We are taught to think of sex as something we deserve, and our sex partners are simply giving us what we deserve.

No human being ever deserves to use or be used by another human being for physical pleasure. The only way to experience another person’s presence without devaluing that person or yourself is to experience him or her as a gift. That philosophy of the human being as gift has been expressed by major world religions – most notably by Pope John Paul II with his Theology of the Body – but it’s not something you’re going to find in Cosmo or Maxim, let alone the New York Times.

When I was sexually active, I believed that being open to premarital sex would bring me closer to marriage. One of the basic tenets of the sexual revolution is that sex should push the relationship. Accordingly, I had believed that no man would marry me unless I had sex with him. I believed that there was nothing intrinsically valuable about me that could possibly make a man willing to wait to have sex with me until we were married.

Did I think that sex and love should be connected? Sure. But if it wasn’t, that was OK. As far as I could see, based on the messages I received not only from the media and popular culture, but from my own friends and family, the only necessary emotional requirement for having sex was respect. As long as my partner and I “respected” one another, no one could deny us our pleasure.

Well, that last part is true, of course. I had free will, and no one could stop me from making my own decisions.

And I had pleasure. But something was missing. It took me years to understand what it was. What was missing was joy.

When I was 31, I underwent a dramatic conversion to Christianity. My new faith put my lifestyle in a new perspective. I realized for the first that all the sex I ever had, far from bringing me closer to marriage, had actually taken me further away from even being able to sustain a relationship that would lead to marriage.

In fact, I believe that sex outside marriage is by its very nature emotionally and spiritually damaging – and I believe that’s true even within a committed relationship. Here’s why: when you have sex, two things are going on – the physical and the emotional. Physically, you’re engaging in the most self-sacrificing act that your body can achieve. Physically, you’re saying, “I give myself to you completely, without reservation. Take my skin, take my sweat, take my breathing, take what’s inside of me.”

Now, emotionally, if you’re not vowed to your sex partner for life, then you know – and your partner knows – that no matter how much you may love one another, you each have an easy out. I don’t care how much people talk about how you can’t be certain a marriage will last forever – I know that better than anyone, because my parents split up when I was in kindergarten – the fact remains that, if you haven’t signed that piece of paper, it is far easier to walk out the door and say, “See ya!” than if you have.

I knew when I was having sex outside marriage that even as I was pouring out my body completely to my partner, I could not pour out my heart and give it all to him as a gift. If there was the slightest chance that we might not get married – and until you’ve gone through with it, there always is – then it would be too painful.

So I learned to build up a shell. Just a little shell, I thought, just to protect myself from getting hurt. But every time I had sex with my partner, I would feel more bonded to him because of the sex – just the sheer biochemistry of sex creates a bonding feeling. So I would have to detach further. It was a terrible, sick irony that the very sex that I believed would bring me closer to my partner in fact prevented me from truly giving myself to him.

After my conversion, realizing that my lifestyle was in opposition to my values as a new Christian, I knew I had to change. At first, I was bitter and resentful about it. I would think, “OK, God, I’m doing this for you, and you’d better appreciate it, because it is hard.” but I quickly found that I couldn’t stay chaste if I thought that way.

Gradually, I stopped looking at my life through the lenses of entitlement and started to look at it – and especially other people – as a gift. Now, I’ll go to social gatherings and instead of thinking like I had before – “I better have chemistry with some man here, otherwise it’s a waste” – I’m simply determined to enjoy myself.

Likewise, instead of focusing on getting the attention of the men who interest me, I’ll talk to everyone, men and women – learn something, make new friends, enjoy their presence and discover something to appreciate about them.

That’s why I think it’s a lie when people say chastity narrows your world. I had a narrow world before I was chaste. I lived with blinders on, like the “Sex and the City” characters who are always on the prowl. Chastity has opened my world, changing me from being jaded to having a sense of wonder and gratitude.

My notes end here, but I said one more thing to the group — the story of the devil and the Agatha Christie novels in "Bedazzled" that I tell in the YouTube video below (from a talk in Cleveland last February). However, instead of stressing "pleasure" when describing the "last page," as I do in this video, I said more accurately that the "last page" is not only pleasure, but joy.

Buy The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On at