Sex, Marriage, Virginity and Related Mental Meanderings

Boy, do we live in a schizophrenic society or what? I’ve been trying to get a post out for most of today. After reading one by Holly over at Love and Heretics, I wanted to write something to the effect of “Speak for yourself. I love sex. It doesn’t have to be a big emotional thing at all.” That seemed a little too short, so I followed all the links in her post trying to find something more profound to say, or, failing that, at least interesting, or longer.

The first link led me to Holly’s initial post in which she discusses what she feels are the negative consequences of being a virgin on your wedding night. She discusses it pretty frankly and I have to give her a lot of credit for that. It of course put me in mind of my wedding night, which was some of the best sex I ever had. Despite the fact that I was far from a virgin, our wedding night was still pretty special. My now ex did one of my absolutely most favorite things which, as able as he was, he only managed to succeed in doing on a handful of occasions. It’s a real shame that he turned out to be an emotionally stunted mess, because he was great in bed. I can’t help thinking that that might be one of the drawbacks of “kicking the tires” first. Sometimes the tires are so damned good, you don’t notice that the rest of the car is non-functional. Of course, the real reason I made such an oversight is because we were having a long distance relationship. I used to joke that we got married on our fourth date. It was the fourth time we met in person, although we’d been writing letters for over a year and a couple of those visits lasted a week. The relationship reached a point where it was jump in with both feet or end it, and we jumped.

Afterwards, he held me in his arms and was crying and said, “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.” That statement validated my own feelings. Sometimes after sex, when I’ve had a particularly intense experience of what I can only describe as being of a transcendental nature, I find myself wondering whether or not the other person experienced the same thing. Usually, they do. Still, sometimes you find yourself brought back down to earth wondering how much of what just happened was real. As a wiser man than I once said, the sexiest part of the body is the brain. Yes, there is physical stimulation, but a large part of what makes the experience so intense sometimes is in our heads. It can also ruin the experience.

It’s ironic that our wedding night was so intense because the first discussion I ever had with my soon-to-be husband when he was still a stranger on a park bench was about how neither of us believed in marriage. But governments do, so we got married.

After reading Holly’s initial post I followed her link to an article on the Huffington Post, which reminded me immediately of why I never read the Huffington Post. It’s so trashy that I feel like I need to take a shower afterwards. Beneath the article there was a painfully stupid “quiz” about which celebrities postponed sexual intercourse with their significant other until they got married. I was actually relieved that I’d never heard of half the people in the quiz. I don’t like to be totally clueless about popular culture, but I don’t want my head to be totally in the gutter either. The article itself was barely an article. It was a short video clip of interview with a woman who wrote about how taking a purity pledge as a teenager wrecked her marriage. There was a link to an article she wrote that appeared in Salon, which the Huffington Post with its usual low quality incorrectly identified as Slate.

This is where the world gets schizophrenic. Salon may not be as trashy as the Huffington Post, but it’s not exactly the New York Review of Books either. I could barely read the article that had brought me there with the title of another article staring out at me from the side bar. The Worst Porn Ever! Really! Ooooh. Don’t rush over there. It’s sounds pretty banal. Backdoor Teen Mom. Apparently there’s a television show that makes z-list celebrities out of women who have children at a young age and – don’t be too shocked now – one of them has cashed in on her celebrity by making a porn video. Guess what, the acting is bad. You’re shocked aren’t you. And here you thought that Backdoor Teen Mom would be the film that cements pornography as a legitimate art form.

Meanwhile, in our schizophrenic culture, Jessica Ciencin Henriquez was recounting her experience at a bible camp where she pledged herself to Jesus and received a purity ring.

And it wasn’t just the ring. This was a movement with T-shirts and hats and the added bonus of superiority over kids in school who couldn’t keep their clothes on, those sinners.

Missing out on sexual pleasure during her teen years made her feel “superior.” What can I say? It’s a big world and it takes all kinds.

She then goes on to say:

After an intense and very detailed sex talk with my mother , where she stuttered and I blushed and we both used the word “flower,” I was terrified of sex.

This reminded me of an incident that occurred the last time I went to the hairdresser’s. My sister came with me. The hairdresser is about my age and still absolutely beautiful. She is tall and thin, has a huge head of wild hair, rides a motorcycle and just has a look that you expect her to be pulling out a guitar rather than a pair of scissors. Unsurprisingly, she had a story about how the previous night she had gone with a friend to hear a band and ended the evening making love to the guitar player half her age. I said to her, “You say that as if there’s something wrong with that.”

“You don’t think so?” she asked with a leading high note on the last word.

“Well, was it good? Did you enjoy it?”

“Oh, it was great. He’s so good-looking, and he’s great in bed. And he’s funny. We just had such a good time. I haven’t had a night like that since I broke up with my girlfriend last year. It was just what I needed.”

“So, then what’s the problem,” I asked, sensing a negative note in her tone.

“Well, I’m not looking for a relationship with him.”

“So….”

“Well, it’s my precious flower.”

In perfect unison, the muscles controlling both my and my sister’s jaws relaxed and our mouths slowly opened hitting the bottommost position at exactly the same time. Together, our heads swiveled on our necks, hers to her left and mine to my right, and we said, “Your… flower?”

The hairdresser took a step backwards, visibly defensive. Later my sister told me that she felt bad about her reaction but she had just been so surprised to hear a grown woman talk that way. “Yes,” she stammered, “my mother told me not to give my precious flower to just anyone.”

“Look,” I spat out, “you’re divorced, with two kids. You just ended a relationship with another woman. Please tell me you’re not still thinking of the advice you mother gave you when you were thirteen and everyone’s biggest worry was that girls would have babies before graduating from high school. We’re both of us baring down hard on fifty. If you don’t want Mr. Twenty-Something Rock-n-Roll, send him my way. He sounds like what I need, too.”

I sat down in the chair. As she cut my hair, I tried to reassure her that there was nothing inherently wrong about casual sex. It seemed that her only qualms about the night before had to do with what she was told by her mother over thirty years ago.

Unfortunately, Ciencin Henriquez’s story lacks any truly satisfactory introspection. We learned that she married young, had boring sex for a few years, then got divorced. As a coda, she tells us that she has since had good sex, some casual and some with a new husband. I do believe, do to my own experience and discussions with both male and female friends, that our beliefs about sex shape our experience of it.

What prompted this post to begin with is that in Holly’s otherwise fine post she says:

I think the distinction was made that waiting for sex until you are older and more mature, and the realization that having sex does indeed do things like give an emotional bond between people, and is more than just “causally having a cup of coffee” as sometimes it is tried to be made out to be is an important observation.

Truthfully, I often feel like the sour note in the chorus when I talk about sex because I do think it can be great if it’s casual. Looking back from the perspective of a woman in middle age, I’m glad I first had sex when I was fourteen. I know other people think it’s irresponsible to say that out loud, but that is the truth. I agree with Anthony Bourdain that, “Your body isn’t a temple; it’s an amusement park.” True, sex can be an opportunity for an emotionally bonding moment, but so can sitting up and talking until dawn. Finding a man I can enjoy fucking is easy. Finding a man I like talking to is hard. Everything in society tells me that I’m supposed to be stingy with my body and generous with my heart. Sex, they seem to say, is never an end in itself.

So, everyone seems to worry whether or not being a virgin on your wedding night is good for, or bad for, your marriage. The presumption, of course, is that marriage is the goal – for everyone. To me, sexual pleasure is a good in and of itself. No one asks if this crazy pressure towards marriage has a negative effect on your sex life. It’s marriage that is everything. Your pleasure is nothing.

Towards the end of Ciencin Henriquez mentions that her wedding dress cost more than the family car. This put me in mind of another episode in my life. My sister was getting married. They did have a real wedding. They were even married by a minister since my brother-in-law’s brother was a minister and he agreed to perform a non-religious ceremony. My sister and I had both sometime earlier agreed that spending a huge amount of money on an official “wedding dress” made no sense. If you just go to your favorite store and buy the prettiest white dress you can find without checking the price tag, you will probably wind up buying something that costs a fraction of a dress marketed as a wedding dress. So, one day I went to the store and I saw a pretty dress. I phoned my sister and told her about it. She said buy a size 8. I put it in large envelope and mailed it to her. She looked as lovely as any bridezilla and was a lot more fun to be around. Despite her lack of concern about her dress and the details of the wedding, she’s still happily married.

After all, your wedding day is still just one day. Your wedding night is still just one night. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Sex isn’t even for everyone. I don’t think there’s any one right way to live. I know I’ve done things that I’m supposed to feel ashamed of, but I don’t. One day, I’m going to write all of them down. There’s something out there that lies between thinking sex is not an experience to be valued in its own right, but only a means to an end, and Backdoor Teen Mom.

Oh, yeah, and the hairdresser, as she finished cutting my hair the phone rang. It was that guitar player. Guess he’d had a good time too.

6 comments
  1. Mate, this is such an interesting post. I have been unable to understand why people are so hang up on sex whereas I think sex and marriage can be treated as separate subjects. I think sex just like money is a good in itself, good exercise and relaxing at the same time and good for the spirits most times.
    And your hair dresser is hilarious! But she ain’t alone, there are many people who live their lives on the advice they were given when they were six!

    • fojap said:

      “good exercise and relaxing at the same time and good for the spirits most times” – I couldn’t agree with you more.

      And my hairdresser is quite the character – and something of an artist with scissors, I should add. (Don’t judge her by my hair. I’m not nearly interested enough in my looks to keep things up.)

  2. holly said:

    I realize i was raised with a pretty darn warped view of sex….
    no question there.
    However, as I have gradually worked through the myths, the misconceptions, the outright lies, and the silliness,
    I am still left with some caution regarding sex itself. It certainly has not turned into a free for all, no worry about sex type thing.
    I still see that based on science, sex is a very important issue for us to be discussing. Free sex with no worries, no rules, no ties
    leads to pregnancies…and sexually transmitted diseases. So with or without making it a separate issue from marriage (which i have no problem with in the discussion realm) I do think caution should be used, and realism, when looking into risks and studies on std’s.

    I think we have to take into consideration that the physical /hormonal drive to have sex, (when the urge hits) can and often times does seem to overpower rational /critical thinking about consequences after the act (especially when drinking etc is involved) it is something worth considering laying one’s own restrictions down on.

    It’s one of those topics I think because one side handled it SO badly, the answer seems to be take off all restrictions and we see that the opposite extreme is equally as bad. (sorry for rambling_it’s still in a “process” for me. 😉 )

    • fojap said:

      Well, I hope you pardon me if I’m a little bit argumentative here. First, you seem to dividing the everything into two extremes, good, responsible sex and bad, dangerous, “free” sex. That’s not unusual in this society, but part of the point I was making is that there’s something that exists between “Backdoor Teen Mom” and no sex outside of marriage. There’s something I’ve thought about a lot, but I haven’t written about because I don’t have any hard facts, but it seems to me that a lot of women who have rejected the notion of sex outside of marriage as being “sinful” have substituted sex in a serious relationship for marriage.

      Secondly, I know women who have picked up STDs from men with whom they were having supposedly monogamous relationships. I, myself, had an unwanted pregnancy in a monogamous, live-in relationship. Having talked about marriage didn’t stop me from getting pregnant. If I stop and think about it, most of the women I know who have had unwanted pregnancies have become pregnant while having sex in serious relationships. In more than one case, the woman decided to have a child and the guy took off, so the relationship didn’t prevent the feared single motherhood either. Neither does actually being married, for that matter, since most single mothers I know became single after a divorce. Having more partners probably does increase your chances of STDs, but I can’t see how it affects the pregnancy issue at all. I know that I’m more likely to use a condom in a casual circumstance than in a relationship. Also, in casual situations, men are less likely to argue for not using one. I think in every “serious” relationship I’ve ever had the man asks to stop using a condom after the first month or two. Sometimes, I swear that was the reason they started talking about monogamy in the first place.

      As far as how I was raised…. Although my grandfather was an avowed atheist, my mother was sent to Catholic school and she was indoctrinated with Catholic attitudes towards sex. She said she didn’t want to pass them on to her daughters, and she made a point of not discussing sex in terms of sinfulness. When I was young, STDs were not the the looming threat that they are today. When I asked, at sixteen, she took me to the gynecologist and I got a diaphragm. I was on the pill for a while, but that was back when the pill was not as good as it is today and the side effects were bad. I understand that they’ve since reduced the amount of hormones in most versions of the pill.

      I think I was really lucky to come of age in the little window of time that was post-sexual revolution, during the height of second wave feminism and pre-AIDS. After AIDS, everything changed. However, why should a disease affect our sense of good behavior and bad behavior. That it affects our behavior on a practical level makes sense, but the moral judgement should be the same. Societal attitudes towards sex and sexuality were just so different in the late seventies. I’ve talked to other women my age and a lot of us feel lucky that way.

      The issue of disease is one that the prudes wield like a weapon to beat down “sluts.” Whenever I say something positive about sex, someone says “disease, pregnancy.” Do you think a virus knows how you feel about sex? Does it know whether you enjoyed it? Does it know how you feel about your partner? It’s just a distraction to prevent an unalloyed positive statement about sex. When people talk about marriage, does anyone tell young women, “Watch out, you’re increasing your chance of being murdered?” Just try to imagine a conversation in which a young woman says, “Hey, Mom, I’m getting married!” and everyone says, “Oh, have you thought about domestic abuse, what about rape in marriage. How about if you have children and he leaves you?” No, we don’t because society wants to encourage marriage and discourage women from feeling good about sex.

      I confess, you’re probably talking to the wrong person. I’ve had a lot of casual sex and haven’t regretted most of it. I’m still alive, too. Admittedly, I’m at an extreme. In a comment on your blog I mentioned that my last relationship was bad. After that relationship, I didn’t want to get involved with anyone immediately, but I still wanted sex, so I put up some ads on CraigsList in casual encounters section. I met some really nice men. Really. I mentioned how that last boyfriend criticized my appearance. Well, one man I met through CraigsList, I was planning on seeing him for the third time, and I had this anxiety attack about my appearance. I called him and said I wanted to cancel. He said, “It doesn’t matter what’s on the outside. It matters what’s on the inside.” I wish I could have a guy in a “real” relationship tell me things like that. After that bad relationship, that was a really necessary moment for me. Perhaps it sounds trivial, but these little moments can make a big difference. He said, “Just put on anything and come out. Don’t worry about your hair or your make-up. Trust me, you’ll feel better. If you still don’t feel good, you can go home. I won’t put any pressure on you.” He turned out to be right. I did feel better. People don’t give up their humanity just because they’re engaging in sex outside of relationship.

      I don’t recommend this behavior for everyone. If it doesn’t appeal to someone they shouldn’t do it. I mention my sister a lot in these discussions because she has many of the same attitudes as I have, but I think her life is closer to what most people want for themselves. As I said, she’s happily married, to a man with whom she lived for a number of years before finally “tying the knot.” Prior to that, she had the usual series of boyfriends in high school and college.

      I do think that anyone looking to engage in casual sex, male or female, needs to learn some concrete facts about sex and be prepared to be assertive. If someone asks you to do something risky, you can’t be wishy-washy. You have to be firm and say, “No. Absolutely not.” I’ve met jerks, too, by the way.

      Also, there are no easy answers. Everyone is going to come to a different conclusion about what they want to do. That’s okay. I’m not recommending my behavior to anyone else, but other people seem to want me to adopt theirs. Maybe I’m odd that way, but I see a lot of life that way. I don’t think there’s one perfect answer for everyone.

      You know what I could be more cautious about – bad relationships. Getting in a bad relationship has had more negative effects on my life than bad casual sex, but nobody warns you about that. Many of those bad relationships were with men that my family and friends viewed as totally appropriate. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about an attraction to “bad boys” or anything like that. Just guys who get in a relationship and then start trying to change you – usually tying to make me more normal.

  3. You rock woman. I don’t have the stamina to write what I want nor do I agree with you on some points but most I do.

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