Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dating as casual sex

An interesting piece in Salon purports to be ``In defense of casual sex.'' In fact, it is a defense of dating widely, the old-fashioned form of dating. For instance, this book advocates that its evangelical audience should date as many people as possible, even people they would never picture themselves marrying such as the secular, in order to learn about themselves and their relationships.

The only difference between the Salon author's dating and the old-fashioned version is how the date ends.

The Salon author acknowledges both versions of dating as valid, but thinks that people should be able to choose which path they take. She says that the abstinence movement "prescribes a particular path, rather than encouraging young women to blaze their own trail." which is a weird criticism of a conservative religious movement, which by its nature prescribes and proscribes. That's its job. Congregants can choose whether to listen --- as in the case of Catholics and birth control --- but a conservative religious movement by its very nature would never endorse fully open choice about anything.

Her premise that the abstinence movement is a unitary entity with a single path is also wrong, just as conservative religious movements' sweeping criticisms of "secular culture" as if it were a single entity. Our culture is just so divided that the two sides aren't aware of each other.

A sociologist studying dating among evangelical Christian young adults could probably find half a dozen legitimized paths towards marriage, ranging from courtship to wide dating with some sexual involvement. More importantly, they would also find another half a dozen of actual paths that people take, and I'm sure some are similar to the Salon author's path. Sexually active conservative Christians have had a handful of sexual partners by the time they finish college, and the handful of conservative Christian dating books that I've read all acknowledge that. I've seen none that speak of using sex as a carrot, though I don't deny they exist; they do speak of setting sexual boundaries as an exercise that will help in maintaining a marriage.

There's very little new to be said about dating and relationships, and much shared ground, as people would know if they would talk to each other. After acknowledging the shared ground, they can talk about the differences. The conservative authors already acknowledge that they are putting young adults in a difficult position, and that many young adults don't hold to the ideal. In this theoretical conversation, the parties could talk about whether more partners or more intimate relationships are better for developing one's sexuality, whether sex takes up time that might be better spent on more varied activities that would reveal more about the relationship, and whether making sex transgressive even though most conservative Christians have premarital sex causes problems.

Ironically, the author's ending is quite conservative, as she ends the article telling how she met her significant other. First-date-sex aside, she lives happily ever after in a monogamous mutually respectful relationship, just as the evangelical dating books want their readers to.

1 comment:

Michael Scott Cuthbert said...

Nice point at the end about the monogamous fulfilling marriage after the first-date sex. But was he her first partner? Can't remember if I I'm trying to find an article from "re:generation Quarterly" an ex-publication of the Christian philosophy group the Veritas Forum. In it, the writer argued that the Bible's definition of marriage is pretty loose and basically boils down to the person you're frequently having sex with. So, the author argued, as long as you stay with the person you start having sex with, you're not having premarital sex. It's your second partner outside of marriage that's the problem.

I can't find the article that made the argument, but here's a link to someone dismissing the view: