True Love Waits… And The Rest Of Us Get On With Our Sex Lives


This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

In my last Blowfish column, I linked you to Scarleteen, the sex information website for teenagers. When I was at the site, I found this letter, “We waited for marriage… but it wasn’t worth the wait”. It completely broke my heart, and I had to write about it.

WeddingThe gist, for those who don’t have the patience to link: The couple in question (not teenagers, late twenties in fact) had decided for religious reasons to abstain from intercourse until after they got married. The woman had a high libido, and had been very excited about being able to have sex whenever — and wherever, and however — they wanted.

Sexstarved_marriageBut the marriage was a big disappointment sexually. Their sex life was less frequent by far than the woman wanted… and more seriously, it was intensely unsatisfying. Their sexual encounters lacked passion, spontaneity, and fun, and were depressingly brief. Hubby eventually admitted that he just isn’t that sexual a person… to which wifey, the person writing the letter, was responding, not unreasonably, “You couldn’t have told me that before we got married?”

It broke my heart. Especially since their religious beliefs, and religious community, will probably make them feel pressured into sticking with the marriage, even if they both decide it’s an unsalvageable failure.

BrideThere are so many directions I could go with this. I could talk about the ridiculous over-emphasis our society places on marriage: the absurdly high expectations we place on it, the idealistic glow we place around it, the assumption that it will magically transform everything, including and especially sex. (And that’s speaking as someone who is herself married — ritually, if not legally — and who does think that her marriage has changed both the relationship and the sex for the better.)

Church_2And of course, I could get on my atheist high horse, and talk about the fucked-up effect religion so often has on sexual happiness. That would certainly be a fruitful direction. Of all the dreadful sources of sexual misinformation and general bad sex advice in the world, religion has to take the cake — because it can’t be argued with. It isn’t based on evidence, it’s based on scripture and religious authority and personal faith… and it’s therefore singularly resistant to change, to adaptation in response to evidence or data. About sex, or anything else.

But I want to go in a different direction here.

I want to express my gratitude for the fact that I — and most of us — don’t live in that world anymore.

Sex_tips_for_girlsI want to express my gratitude that in my world, having sex with someone, lots of times, before you settle down with them for the long haul, is generally considered, not only normal and acceptable, but sensible, obvious, and even self-evident.

Sex_and_the_single_girlI want to express my gratitude that in my world, premarital sex, never-marital sex, multiple sexual relationships, living together before marriage, living together without ever getting married, and so on, are all commonplace and generally accepted in much of the country, and indeed much of the world.

Sex_for_oneI want to express my gratitude that in my world, masturbation and oral sex are generally considered normal, mainstream, not even all that interesting… and things like anal sex, spanking, and bondage are generally seen as mildly kinky thrills at most, somewhat outre but really not all that wild compared to all the other freaky stuff people are up to.

Birth_control_pillsI want to express my gratitude that in my world, birth control is widely and easily available, and even advertised on national TV.

Adventurous_couple_guide_to_sex_toyI want to express my gratitude that in my world, sex toys, sexual information, and sexual entertainment are widely and anonymously available, and even joked about in sitcoms.

Same_sex_weddingI want to express my gratitude that in my world, gay sex is no longer a crime anywhere in my country… and gay relationships have a fair amount of social and legal recognition in large parts of the country and the world.

DivorceEven divorce. Unhappy as it is, I’m grateful for divorce. I’m grateful that unhappy marriages that don’t work for anybody can be ended, without bringing ruin and disgrace to the couple and their family. I want to express my gratitude that in my world, it was relatively easy, and almost entirely unstigmatized, for me to get out of a marriage to a guy who was decent but a disastrous choice for me… so I could spend some time getting my shit together before I settled down with a partner who it actually made sense for me to settle down with.

It’s easy to take all this for granted. It’s easy to forget how different things were in my parents generation… and how radically different they were in my grandparents’.

AmericanpieIt’s not like things are perfect now. Trust me, I get that. We have, among other things, a world with a glut of sexual imagery and a relative dearth of sexual information. We have a world in which there’s a lot of pressure to be an amazing sexual performer… at an increasingly young age. We have a world in which the mere mention of the word “penis” can be effectively used in the movies to generate enormous laffs. We have a world that’s still fairly uncomfortable with sex, and that often doesn’t know how to deal with it.

BurqaWhat’s more, we have a world where even these basic sexual freedoms and privileges are limited to very specific people and regions. Large numbers of people and extensive regions, but still very specific. We have a world where, in large parts of it, gay people are still being put in prison, and women are still being executed for adultery.

And of course, we have a world filled with plenty of people who are working like crazy to turn back the clock to the good old days… the days of sexual ignorance and secrecy and shame.

Good_vibrations_guide_to_sexBut things are better now. A lot better. We’re beginning, I think, to see sex as a normal part of a happy life… and to see sexual experimentation, with different partners and different kinds of sex, as a natural and sensible way to figure out who you are and what you like and whether you and your honey are compatible.

And I’m never reminded of that more vividly than when I hear about people who still live, for all intents and purposes, in the old world, the world of my parents and grandparents… and who are being made miserable by it.

Comments

  1. Rebecca says

    I myself feel particularly blessed to have parents who did not act during my childhood as if sex was some Big Freaking Deal. Who made sure that both I and my brother had accurate information and access to birth control reasonably early in our teenage years. And who were open about the fact that they had lived together before they were married.
    Actually, it turns out that my mother’s parents lived together before marriage as well. And, according to a love letter we found after my father’s parents died, it appears that they didn’t wait until marriage either.
    For some people, it seems that the bad old days weren’t as bad as we’ve been told.

  2. says

    Great post. That young bride’s letter was heartbreaking. I agree that we in the west have come a long way sexually within the past 50 years. There’s much more progress to be made, but we as a society are generally moving in the right direction in spite of those who wish to hold us back.

  3. says

    Totally agree Greta!
    I moved in with the woman who became my wife within three months of meeting her, though of course we were sexually active even before that.
    While we were living together but before we became engaged, I was at my brother’s house one Sunday. The father of his wife was there that day, he was a Christian fundie. I mentioned casually about living in Queens in my girlfriend’s apartment.
    The father in-law, Frank, looked up at me from the chair he was sitting in, did that “tut-tut” thing, shook his head, and said with grave seriousness, “Tommy, you’re living in sin.”
    Well, my girlfriend and I got married a year after that and have been married for over 8 years, and Frank had his second divorce.

  4. says

    Hear, hear! Puritanism needs to be eradicated for the good of all. The RRRW and their obsession with running everybody’s sex-lives is obscene–and dangerous. Thomas More had it right back when he wrote Utopia. We need to know what we’re getting into before we take the plunge if we’re to be happy. Imagine how much lower the divorce rate would be.

  5. says

    While I was in college, I got acquainted with someone from a Christian university down the road. The two of us had some friendly but ultimately inconclusive debates. More interesting to me was that, at the age of 18 or 19, he had a fiancee. This Bible college was strictly segregated by sex, so being married to someone from the opposite gender was pretty much the only way to interact with them, much less have any sexual contatc. The two of them ended up getting married the summer before their junior year.
    A few months after that, I was going food shopping at night (I’ve always been a night owl) and ran into my friend at the supermarket. It was late, on a weeknight, and he was buying a bouquet of flowers. I didn’t ask why, but you could tell there was a story behind it, and I’m willing to bet it wasn’t an especially happy one.
    It seems ironic that the churches which preach so often about the importance of marriage are essentially setting up their young followers for failure by rushing them into over-romanticized, poorly prepared weddings before they’re truly ready – before they’re even adults, in fact. Believing that marriage is the only opportunity for sexual contact encourages these poor people to hasten into it, and I doubt a marriage undertaken for that reason is likely to last or be happy.

  6. Buck Fuddy says

    If people want to abstain from sex before marriage, that’s one thing, but where they go wrong is that they also abstain from talking about sex.
    I mean, if you’ve decided–tentatively, I would hope–to spend the rest of your life with somebody, and sex is important to you, wouldn’t you think it’s a good idea to talk to each other about sex, just to make sure you’re on the same page?
    It’s not like it isn’t risky enough already–I know lots of couples that started out totally compatible and, over the years, one of them, gradually or suddenly, lost interest in sex–but if you don’t even know each others’ preferences at the outset, how can anybody in their right mind commit to a life-long, exclusive relationship?

  7. says

    As one who has suffered from religious sexual oppression, I heartily endorse this wonderful little post. Thanks again, Greta.

  8. Noxx says

    I think the guy was using religion to avoid sexual contact until the girl was trapped. I think – based solely on my limited observation, I admit – that one of the malevolent uses of religion is to do just that.
    We live in an overtly sexual world, and there is a lot of pressure to be enthusiastic about sex.
    I would like to see asexuals or people with low sex drives be as loud and proud as gays or atheists or anyone else standing up for themselves. I suspect if someone could feel just as accepted never having sex as those who have it all the time (as posited by the media) then people wouldn’t feel the need to deceive.
    I have trouble understanding low sex drives. But I do understand that it’s my issue – my lack of understanding, and not some defect. If people would step up and honestly discuss their experiences, it would would become normal.

  9. says

    Great post. It does get discouraging looking at the state of sexuality in this culture. But I agree that it’s wayverymuch better than it used to be and getting better all the time. I also think that focusing on all the advances will help the transition even more.
    Thanks for this!

  10. says

    I want to express my gratitude that in my world, having sex with someone, lots of times, before you settle down with them for the long haul, is generally considered, not only normal and acceptable, but sensible, obvious, and even self-evident.
    I think the only thing one can say to that, and the ones that followed it, is “Amen.” I agree with every sentiment you expressed in this piece,

  11. says

    Beautiful post, I linked and copied it. I love your illustrations, god bless Sex Tips for Girls, and isn’t it time for Sex Tips for Boys?
    I live in Ireland, and when I was a child, condoms were not for sale, divorce was not available, sex before marriage was … well… officially discouraged, for all the good that did… and so many people got given such issues. And told so little. And … ugh…

  12. jericho says

    Wisely spoken! found your post on sexisnottheenemy.tumblr.com. I’m not that old, but i wish back in the days i had the self-conception and freedom of young people in western societies today. fortunately a lot of things changed since i was a teenager.
    And thank god i’m an atheist! :)

  13. SocialSci says

    My 20 yr. Old college student Grandaughter asked if she and her boyfriend could use our camp for a weekend. To the horror of my peers, I said yes.
    She is educated, enlightened, had her parent’s permission, and simply for me it was no big deal. I pride myself in her freedom to do so.
    My friends still cling that the belief that it was so wrong of me to allow it. This blog confirms and validates my decision and I thank you for it.

  14. Janee says

    It seems as though you’re almost trying to convince everyone that waiting until marriage for sex is wrong. I don’t agree. I am an atheist and have still decided to wait for marriage to have sex. I decided that, not because of anyone telling me it was wrong as a child or anything like that, but because I decided I wanted that to be saved as sort of a final physical step as much as marriage is a final legal step to take in a relationship. I don’t see anything wrong with the way I’ve decided to do that.
    What I think you should be talking about, is the stigma attached to discussing sex before marriage. I have sexual deal-breakers for the future, despite my decision. I discuss sex in my relationships despite my decision. The probably is that he didn’t tell her, not that they didn’t act on it.

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