Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Don't Know What I Beleive Pt. 2

I've been considering the question of sexual morality recently since it's been brought up by more than one LDS-backgrounded friend.

What is the Quaker position on premarital sex?
Deep breath. I take this question as neither an invitation to have sex nor an invitation to get married. Of course, the important thing here is what is my position? Maybe I just say that because I don't know the official Quaker position off the top of my head.

There is a late-teen memory which flashes into my head. I spent the summer before my senior year making some really intense friendships at a summer camp run by the Junior Statesmen Foundation (Stanford 1990 represent!). I maintained contact with one of the gals for a brief time and had an intense overnight conversation about relationships, sex, and friendship. She was the first female peer that felt comfortable talking to me about her history with sex, and shared that she'd probably stayed in her last relationship (which was shading vaguely abusive) way too long solely because of the bond and closeness she felt because of sex. I think that revelation was my first hint that I didn't know everything about sex. Well, certainly I knew the consequences, but this might have been the first time that I was introduced to the idea of sex causing bonding where before there might have only been weak attraction or none at all.

Now I'm not 16 any more, but this discussion bubbles to the top of my mind when I'm asked about promiscuity, premarital sex, or casual sex. My personal experiences haven't ever really conflicted with that late-night conversation. I can understand the desire for casual sex, but can't say much about sex has ever been casual to me. A new friend of mine told me that wasn't her experience at all, which was surprising. Though now I wonder whether she meant that wasn't her experience with the attitudes of men she knew, as opposed to her personal experience.

I don't know whether this was a coordinated thing, but my LDS friends have all casually (or not so casually) mentioned the idea of LDS chastity to me, all in the space of a very few days (what's up with the chastity message, people?). Chastity as in premarital chastity. I know I'm old now because I can certainly understand the motivations behind that attitude. Maybe I look back and and see that some of the experiences I had as a young person could have been delayed. Chastity, in my mind, has it's problems. Sexuality is just so complex, over time (and even over not so much time), that I wonder how people could make a marriage commitment without knowing their long-term sexual compatibility. One friend floated the idea that talking about expectations ahead of time would be a good step, as would faith and a commitment to work on things that might come up. Those are definitely great ideas, but nothing is quite like the actual thing, over time, in real-life, less-than-ideal conditions. And by implication, doesn't that mean that people are getting married without first living together? Another thing that amazes me.

Whoops, what's right for me? I guess I think there's a middle ground between chastity and promiscuity.

I think the official position is that sex is something that should be limited to people in a committed and caring relationship, which pretty much describes my attitude.

[EDIT: Added Question]
Let me throw out the question of premarital chastity to my legions of readers who experienced that kind of culture. Was it difficult to negotiate different expectations before and after marriage? How about my married readers who didn't grow up in that kind of culture? Any insights?


  1. Okay, so this one is going anonymous, just because I don't want it to be google-able...

    So I didn't live with my fiance before we married. Nor did I have sex with my fiance before we married. There were all kinds of social, cultural, and religious reasons for my choice. Looking back on it, I have no regrets.

    However, having said that, not having sex before our marriage put an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety on the wedding night experience. Also, because of various religious taboos against pre-martial sexual behavior of any stripe, it meant that the wedding night was like zero-60. Well, at least 10-60. So all of the discovering was compressed into this really short space of time. Allright, so what I'm trying to say, is that I would probably change that if I were to change anything about my marriage/sex experience. Allow more time for discovery...

    So when I think about my friends who are single and I speak from my experience, I guess I want to say that sex is super-important in a relationship. But more important are communication and emotional intimacy. And even if a couple chooses to abstain from sex prior to marriage, there are all kinds of ways to ensure that you are emotionally compatible and that you can communicate well about whatever challenges (sexual or otherwise) that might arise in your marriage.

  2. I've been wondering about this selfsame thing recently, and about what my feelings on sexual morality ought be as a nascent Quaker. It can be deucedly difficult to determine what the "official" Quaker opinion really is, but the feeling I get from attending meeting and listening to the queries is just what you've described: that it should be limited to people in a committed and caring relationship. The specifics of that relationship aren't so important as that the people involved are fair and caring with each other, avoiding intimidation and manipulation and violence of any kind.

    The descriptions I've heard of Quaker marriages--how they are stripped down to the absolute bare minimum of an exchange of self-written vows--implies to me that marriage, as a formality, isn't as big of a deal for the Friends as it might be for other groups. I perceive, rightly or wrongly, that among the Quakers there is a general encouragement of love, in all its forms, and an allowance for the individual to listen to his or her own heart and conscience, in preference to the kind of condemnation and harsh judgment that some might lavish upon those who engaged in premarital sexual relations. Indeed, the Quaker acceptance of alternative sexualities allows for the acceptance of love within a homosexual partnership; homosexuals who are prevented by law from being married, but who are, nevertheless, ideally encouraged in their love and their personal development by the Friends. I should think that committed heterosexual couples should receive the same kind of acceptance should they choose to pursue sexual relations outside of marriage.

    When I was young, and heavily influenced by conservative Evangelicalism, I internalized the notion that sex was foul and shameful, and a detraction from matters of the spirit. I thought its only valid expression was within a marriage between a man and a woman, and then only for the purposes of procreation. As I have grown older, I have come to believe that the bond that can exist between people (and not even necessarily between a man and a woman) in a sexual relationship, as much as it can be twisted into something ugly and abusive and exploitative, can also, under the right circumstances, provide us with the one of the best examples for the kindness and openness and sharing that can and *should* exist between human beings. And I don't think the Quakers would discourage that, whenever and wherever it occurs. At least, that's my sense of the matter. Perhaps I'm inserting too many of my own beliefs here, though, and am not toeing the (nonexistent?) Quaker line.

  3. Wow, I'm just really blown away by the depth of the Anon and Anima Umbrae responses. I really appreciate the thought you've clearly both put into this subject.