When we last left off, we were examining Janice Shaw Crouse’s thoughts on love and marriage in her book Marriage Matters: Perspectives On The Private And Public Importance Of Marriage. Over the course of that piece, we acknowledged that, on some things, Janice actually has some really good advice for couples who wish to commit to each other in marriage, but that she unfortunately is constrained by her Judeo-Christian Supremacist worldview and cannot see how her advice is good and wise for non-Christian couples, gay and lesbian couples, etc.
In that chapter, she also defended child trafficking, due to another blind spot in her worldview, wherein the child sex trade of today is awful, but it becomes romantic when it’s in the Bible.
So, mixed bag?
In the next chapter, Janice urges that we should “bring back dating,” and of course, she has some guidelines, because, you know, Kids These Days.
You see, back in the good old days that religious conservatives imagine, people didn’t have sex before marriage. She’s correct when she says that women who had sex were stigmatized as sluts, but the truth is that men sort of got away with what they wanted. Where Janice sees feminism as the introduction of widespread premarital sex, the truth is that it’s simply been doing its part to level the playing field, even in matters of sex.
Janice blames television:
In TV shows such as 90210, everyone sleeping around was portrayed as normal. Similarly in Friends, and particularly so in the case of Jennifer Aniston’s character, “Rachel,” an obsession with finding “the one” led her to sleep around, desperately searching for “the one.” Sex and the City carried these ideas further and had an enormous effect, shaping young people’s perceptions of how they should behave. The media’s portrayal of casual sex as fun and glamorous, rather than promiscuous, risky, and slutty, led to new attitudes and values that displaced traditional ones.
Of course, it’s all Hollywood’s fault.
…and with feminism adding an intellectual façade of sorts to supposed “free love”…
And women’s fault.
The truth, of course, is that 90210 didn’t portray anything that hadn’t already been happening for decades. Who among us hasn’t been a wealthy thirty-five year-old eleventh grader navigating the literal and figurative canyons of adolescent life in Beverly Hills?
Seriously, though, the TV shows were reflecting culture, rather than directing it.
Janice notes, though, that these changes in culture did spawn a different set of changes for youth from conservative religious homes, one that I remember well. While I was in the closet in high school going through the motions of dating girls, cousins of mine had decided to give up dating, after reading a book Janice references, called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. While Janice understands why it was attractive for families who wished to preserve their teens’ chastity to get out of the dating game, she’s not happy with the trend overall:
While [author Joshua] Harris is certainly not solely to blame for the nondating trend among religiously oriented young people, his book helped to spark widespread disenchantment with traditional dating by articulating a rationale for not doing so. I suppose one could be forgiven to think that such a serious decision as marriage could be decided through such a random process as dating. On one college campus, guys started wearing T-shirts trumpeting their disdain for dating, which read: “We don’t date chicks!”
Were they theater majors?
If one of those guys happens to be going through the attic and finds one of those shirts, preferably in a medium-ish size, I will send you fifty bucks for it.
Back to serious talk, Janice laments that this non-dating thing among conservative youth has turned into an
…avalanche of guys and girls texting each other nonstop day and night. One teenager lamented a slow day when he received only seventy-five texts between the time after school and bedtime.
“His name is Schuyler and I made him up.” The thing is, though, that’s a culture-wide trend, and I will own up to my own “you kids, get off my lawn!” tendencies by saying unequivocally that it is obnoxious, whether it’s adults or teenagers doing it.
But as I said, Janice thinks dating is overall a thing, but she has some pretty strict rules. Let’s look at those, the good ones and the bad ones, and let’s see which of her good ones are really good advice for gay teens growing up, because they need to learn too.
Here, for example, is a good passage that applies equally to straight and LGBT young people:
For the purposes of preparation for marriage, dating should be guided by the following considerations. During high school and college, dating should be viewed as an opportunity to schedule time with a person of the opposite [or same – Ed.] sex in order to get to know him or her. The dates should be times of fun, fellowship, and good times — opportunities to discover the infinite variety in personalities and to learn about yourself and others. One of the important lessons that students learn is that different people bring out different aspects of our personalities; in many respects, we are different people when we are around different types of persons.
This is true! It’s also an argument for later marriage, as people continue to morph, mature and grow until well into their twenties. Part of the reason that so many early marriages — which are so often espoused by conservatives like Janice — fail is that those kids ain’t done growin’ up yet. They hit thirty and look at each other and realize they’re completely different people from who they were when they got together.
The next part echoes something that my mom told me many times, and now, as a thirty-four year old human, I see her wisdom. (Hi, Mom!)
Such dating should not be burdened with pressure and an overlay of seriousness. Though certainly the ultimate purpose of dating is to find a mate, treating dating too seriously at the outset smacks of desperation, and it is inhibiting and counterproductive to the maturation process. High school and college students should realize that dating a person does not necessarily lead to marriage; dating is for fun…
Etc. And she is right. I remember, in high school, there was this couple (both of whom are now married to other people, happily) who were so serious and so very dramatic. They were that couple, the one that everyone goes to school partially just to see what today’s dramatic hallway fight is going to be about. It was kind of ridiculous.
Of course, here comes the anti-sex part:
Young people need to realize that casual sex is heavy baggage to bring into a marriage, and they should avoid being in isolated places or at parties where they might face compromising situations. Since drinking often precedes sexual intimacy on campus — when inhibitions are freed and students behave in ways they regret later — students should avoid parties where alcohol and subsequent sex are likely. More than one in ten high school girls will have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse in or out of school by the time they graduate and, usually, alcohol is involved. Nearly 20 percent of young women in college will be victims of attempted or actual sexual assault; again, alcohol is typically involved.
So, here is the part where Janice’s advice starts to go sour. Let us count the ways:
1. Casual sex does not automatically cause “heavy baggage.” The great majority of people have sex long before marriage, and while they might regret this encounter or that relationship, they generally do not regret the fact that they didn’t save their virginity for their wedding nights. This is one of those things where the fundamentalist Christian worldview is just so, so blind. Their interpretation of their biblical texts says that sex outside of marriage causes shame and distress, therefore it must. They believe that abortion is always, under every circumstance, evil, and therefore the women who have them must all struggle for years afterward with depression and, somehow, breast cancer (even though that myth has been debunked a million times).
2. We’re glad to see that Janice is on board with rape being bad, but she’s blaming the victim, just like so many of her worldview and her generation do. Getting drunk at a college party is not a justification for rape.
3. The fact that she conflates the two in the same paragraph is really quite gross. Two college students having fun, consensual, protected sex is their business, and it has nothing to do with some frat boy raping a passed out girl at a party.
4. Sex happens. Among young people, sex happens. It has always happened. It will always happen. Virginity pledges don’t tend to pan out the way conservatives want them to, and abstinence education doesn’t work. Why? Because people like sex, a whole lot. Indeed, they are biologically driven to have sex, whether gay, straight or bisexual. It’s part of being a person. We go back again to the blinded worldview of the fundamentalist Christian. They believe that they can compartmentalize sex as a forbidden fruit that magically turns into the best thing ever on a person’s wedding night, but it doesn’t work that way for real people.
This is one of what I have always seen as the major differences between religious conservatives and everyone else when it comes to handling these sorts of things. Those of us who live in the reality-based community understand that, regardless of what you think about it, high school and college-aged kids are going to have sex. Therefore, they should be armed with the best information on protecting themselves and avoiding unwanted pregnancies and STDs. There’s much more to it than that, of course, but on a basic level, it’s much better to arm them with that info, because they’re going to do it anyway.
Anecdote time: when I was in high school, I had a particularly fundamentalist religious phase of my own — for psychological reasons, as I mentioned above that I was deeply closeted during that time — and was involved in a nondenominational bible study with students from my school. They were conservative with a capital ‘C.’ They were all about pledging their virginity and purity and chastity and everything else. A friend of mine I dated during that time, who was in no way involved with that group of people and is now happily married with her own kids, still tells people about the time I took her to a “True Love Waits” rally in high school. I’m pretty sure my brain saw that worldview as a way to avoid the whole sex thing without actually having to deal directly with the fact that I was gay. But in that group, the level of real information about sex they had, combined with the virginity-pledging mentality and raging teenage hormones, created a perfect storm of “how far is too far?” It turns out that if you’re obsessively flirting with the edge of “too far,” you can still sometimes get pregnant in high school. Even those extremely conservative kids were…well, they were human teenagers. And they wanted to get it on. And they didn’t have any real, non-condemning information at their fingertips to protect them.
So, Janice is quite wrong on the sex part, but right on the idea of dating offering opportunities for growth, maturity, communication, learning to deal with all kinds of people and learning about oneself. A more balanced approach would be to teach all those things, and also acknowledge that on the real planet earth, some of that dating is going to lead to sex. She does not do that.
Instead, she continues to bemoan the “new” rules of dating. I’m going to speed through a lot of this because we’re already at two-thousand words, and also because it’s a lot of the typical “sex is evil, except for the way I say” claptrap. She also, though, discusses the fact that sex can and does play a strong role in bonding with a person, and thus should be treated with respect. She even discusses the actual science behind it — which is strange when a reading a fundamentalist author! Usually when fundamentalists are talking science, they’re trying to tell you how Noah’s wooden ark managed to survive dinosaur arguments and termite infestations. This is a main reason she is not a fan of “hooking up.” Tell us about oxytocin, Janice:
Researchers know that oxytocin is produced naturally in the brain — in the hypothalamus — and that it is released when a couple becomes physically intimate, most especially during sexual orgasm, producing strong bonding in both men and women. For women, it increases trust and immediately produces feelings of attachments, just as dozens of prefeminist Hollywood movies dramatized. What researchers have discovered, however, is something a movie could not show. Amazingly, oxytocin also increases a man’s sperm count, facilitates sperm transport, and strengthens male ejaculation. In short, it causes greater male potency. [They could have shown that in Look Who’s Talking. Just saying. – Ed.]
The researchers’ experiments have shown that this natural chemical dramatically affects many species and that blocking the hormone can short-circuit a mother’s maternal nurturing instincts and cuase her to reject her offspring. On the positive side, oxytocin is also released in the mother when an infant nurses, and it stimulates contractions during the birth process — it is used in the delivery room to trigger labor…
…[I]t is quite a jolt to have scientific researchers bluntly call love a “chemical addiction” between a man and a woman. In fact, they claim that the brians of people who say that they are deeply in love use the same neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction…
Interestingly, there is a prairie vole (a small burrowing rodent less than two inches long) that is one of the few animal species (only 3 percent) that forms monogamous relationships. These voles have an intense, extended mating ritual and then mate for life. Another type of vole, the montane vole, has vastly different behavior — monogamy plays no role in its reproductive activities, even though, genetically, the two vole species are 99 percent alike.
Since we’re going to be examining a lot of Janice’s anti-gay beliefs in the coming days, it’s worth noting that these hormones come into play in bonding between gay and lesbian couples as well! It’s not just for straight people and prairie voles! (Also, prairie voles, apparently the favorite animal of anti-gay, “pro-family” conservatives — you learn something every day — are a lot sluttier than Janice would want you do believe.) It’s also important to note that the science isn’t so cut-and-dried that it effects every person the same exact way. From an article about the science of gay and lesbian bonding:
It’s crucial to note here that all men and women — gay, straight, and in between — possess a wide range of temperaments and tendencies. Men gay and straight may find it extremely easy to bond, while women of all sexual persuasions run the gamut from runaround to stay-at-home. The important thing is that for all of us, gay and straight, the neurochemistry of bonding is the same.
This is why Janice’s proscriptions for couples to avoid sex because the woman will automatically become bonded to the man, etc., are hollow, and why she and others of her worldview really have no business telling others what to do with their sex lives. Janice claims that people who hook up run a “risk [of] short-circuiting future relationships” by ruining the chemical reaction that happens when people have sex. But as much as the science tells us, it doesn’t tell the whole story, does it?
If you’re a person for whom sex, love and commitment are intricately intwined, then you probably should approach sex differently from someone who is able to separate the two entirely or experience a whole different kind of sex, depending on whether you are in love with this person or it’s a hook-up. A more balanced lesson would be, “know thyself.”
And that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? People like Janice, people with a Judeo-Christian Supremacist worldview, come to these subjects first from a place of morality and control. They want to lay out The Rules everyone must follow in order that everyone may live in accordance with what the anti-gay, anti-woman folks believe. They go on stage at the World Congress Of Families, claiming that their beliefs aren’t about hate, but rather simply about creating strong families. Nothing could be further from the truth. They want to support your family, as long as it looks the way they say it should. They want to support your marriage, as long as it’s set up in a nice patriarchal structure with exactly two different sets of genitals.
They do not support your autonomy as a human being. Janice makes blanket statements like this:
Having sex without entering a publicly committed relationship — marriage — puts a couple’s relationship at risk and brings considerable emotional baggage into that relationship as well as any future relationships. In addition, trust is jeopardized; if the individual was unwilling and/or unable to maintain self-control prior to marriage, why would a marriage partner believe that spouse would be able to resist temptation after marriage.”
And in response, I can introduce you to ten couples off the top of my head who would look Janice in the eye and say, “what utter bullshit.”
Janice goes on with her blanket statements to cite a study by Mark Regnerus — his garage recordings from before he was signed to a major label, basically — which says that “70 percent of contemporary young adults regret their first sexual encounter.” What a Regnerus statement that is, don’t you think? On its face, it appears to say something of value, but upon twelve seconds of reading comprehension, you realize that it doesn’t say a damn thing! Because what Janice wants her not-thinking-very-hard readers to take away is that 70% of young adults regret becoming sexually active before marriage. That is not what that says, though. If we are to take the statement at face value, I am part of the seventy percent! Look at me, an openly gay, agnostic person, being a part of Mark Regnerus’s moralistic statistic! Why do I regret my first time? Because it sucked, and it wasn’t the right time, person or situation. But do I regret becoming sexually active? Not no, but hell no. In my still pre-marital life, I have had wonderful, fulfilling sex that has helped me grow as a person, and has been a lot of fun. Just as my future husband will appreciate the mental, spiritual and emotional maturity I will bring to the table in our marriage, he’ll also appreciate that I’m also pretty good at sex-having. Millions of people can say the same.
Know thyself. If you are an unmarried person and are responsible enough to protect yourself and your partner and you know that it’s good for you physically, emotionally and mentally, then embrace your sex life with any consenting adult(s) of your choosing! If you can’t do that, make decisions that better reflect who you are as a person.
That’s it for this chapter of Talkin’ Sex With Fundamentalists. Look out for the next installment, coming soon!
Past pieces in this series: