In my article last week about feminist Jessica Valenti, a reader named “Jess” commented that she dislikes “how there’s apparently no middle ground between sleeping with everything that moves and waiting for marriage.” Ironically (since we seem to have little else in common), I agree with her. Ms. Valenti makes a living telling young women that if they’re not on her side — if you don’t, in other words, have any qualms about casual sex or “hooking up” — then virginity is their only other option. But that leaves out millions of women who see things differently.
Prior to getting married (the first time, that is — at the age of 23), I was neither a slut nor a virgin. I have never supported the idea of casual sex, but I have also never felt that two monogamous, responsible individuals (which, in these days, usually doesn’t apply to anyone under 18) who are deeply in love — and may nor may not marry — should be expected to not have sex. It’s simply too tall an order in my opinion.
Here’s my problem with arguing for abstinence until marriage: Fifty years ago, it made sense to do this for the obvious reason: lack of birth control. Without safe and reliable birth control, a woman getting pregnant was a real possibility. Thus, the physical consequences of having sex were greater. I can’t imagine a life without birth control; it’s inconceivable. But I can assure you my choices would have been dramatically compromised.
With birth control an option, responsible and committed adults should be able to express their love for one another in the most natural way. Indeed, I think it’s crazy — and with birth control, unnecessary — to expect people who are in love to abstain completely. What if you don’t get married until you’re thirty? Hello? But that’s just my opinion — and I certainly respect people who choose to wait until marriage to have sex. In fact that’s pretty impressive.
The bottom line is that there’s too much attention played to the slut/virgin dichotomy. There is another option: It’s called being morally and physically responsible. Morally responsible means you don’t have sex with your friends, acquaintances, or people with whom you’ve only had one date.
It means saving sex not for marriage — but for love.
When I was in college, my then-boyfriend (who later became my first husband) and I used to fight about this issue. He was one of those “do it if it feels good” kind of guys. He thought it was odd, cute perhaps, that I hadn’t engaged in casual sex. (And I was 18 when we met!) He had had sex with many girls in high school, one or two of whom he may have dated but several of whom were merely friends. “It’s no big deal,” he said. “Friends have sex all the time.” So whenever we’d run into someone he knew from high school, I’d say, “So you had sex with her, too?” And because he wasn’t the kiss-and-tell type, he didn’t give me a direct answer. But I always knew. Eventually I stopped counting.
My ex-husband wasn’t the only person who felt this way. Indeed, almost everyone I knew took the same position he did. I can think of only one other person who, like me, did not believe in casual sex but were not opposed to premarital sex in theory. Not coincidentally, she and I dated one person throughout our college careers — and we each ended up married to them.
So how ’bout a new take on this whole premarital sex thing? How ’bout instead of waiting for marriage, we wait for love? There are many advantages to this approach — one of which is that I can sit here at the age of 42 and say that I have absolutely no regrets. I never had to worry about my physical health (STDs and whatnot), and I never woke up next to someone the next day and had to remember what his name was or felt the awkwardness of “Okay, now what?”
And for this I am eternally grateful.