Tom Perrota has an uninteresting-yet-interesting piece in Slate on the Sexy Puritan:

I didn’t think too much about Sexy Puritans as a type until I began looking into the abstinence-only sex-education movement while researching my novel, The Abstinence Teacher. I expected to encounter a lot of stern James Dobson-style scolds warning teenagers about the dangers of premarital sex—and there were a few of those—but what I found over and over again were thoughtful, attractive, downright sexy young women talking about their personal decision to remain pure until marriage. Erika Harold, Miss America of 2003 (the right sure loves beauty queens), is probably the best-known to the wider public, but no abstinence rally is complete without the testimony of a very pretty virgin in her early- to mid-20s. At a Silver Ring Thing event I attended in New Jersey in 2007, a slender young blond woman in tight jeans and a form-fitting T-shirt—she wouldn’t have looked out of place at a frat kegger—bragged about all the college boys who’d tried and failed to talk her into their beds. She reveled in her ability to resist them, to stand alone until she’d found the perfect guy, the fiancé with whom she would soon share a lifetime full of amazing sex. While her explicit message was forceful and empowering—virginity is a form of strength and self-sufficiency—the implicit one was clear as well: Abstinence isn’t just sour grapes for losers, a consolation prize for girls who can’t get a date anyway.

The surprising thing about the article to me is that people bought into some archetype of the physically plain and quiet abstinant. That’s never come even close to what pops into my mind when I think about a girl that proclaims that she’s saving herself for marriage. It seems to me that the ability to make that claim – and make it loudly – requires certain things that beautiful and popular people have in spades. Eccentricity is something that only bulletproof people can get away with and that has serious social repercussions for anyone without that kind of insulation.

Take two people that I’m going to name Betty and Edna. Betty is pretty and popular and Edna is quiet and bookish. If Betty loudly proclaims that abstinence is the way to go, she will either live up to her proclamation or she won’t. If she does, she will still get dates. Guys will date her thinking that they can change her mind or because for one reason or another they care because she brings enough else to the table. If she is a hypocrite, her popularity will insulate her from accusations of hypocrisy. Guys that talk about sleeping with her will be disbelieved by large segments of the student population. Guys that badmouth her will face social costs unless they’re on better footing than she is, and since she’s on good footing, that’s not terribly likely, so a lot will stay quiet.

Edna is a different story. She doesn’t bring enough to the table socially for guys that want to sleep with her to be willing to go through the time and effort of trying to manipulate her into doing so. They’ll just move on to the next person. Guys that do date her and don’t sleep with her will badmouth her. Many will be able to use her insecurities to get her to fall down on her convictions and many will probably say they slept with her anyway just to save face. Guys that do sleep with her will brag about it with impunity once they move on or even before they move on because there isn’t much social cost to losing her anyway. It all matters less. The costs are less severe for treating her badly. She is uninsulated and unprotected by the friends and social reputation that she doesn’t have.

All of this pertains to high school and social networks in college, but dynamics from those days continue forward. Those that got away with it in high school will be more cavalier about it afterwards. Those that paid a price for it will be more quiet. The dating situation changes substantially after college, but on the all one of the things that has surprised me is how relatively rarely sexual attitudes did.


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25 Responses to All-American Girls

  1. ? says:

    The dynamic you describe makes me ask rhetorically: why are women who aspire to chasity seeking to date these rakes to begin with? Why are they not dating (or, more specifically, courting) chaste men?

    I say rhetorically, because I suspect I know the answer, and it depresses the crap out of me. The failure to address this issue is a gaping hole in abstinence education. I appreciate the importance of telling women to be chaste, but this is only in their self-interest. Telling them to choose chaste, and to be willing to pay the status costs associated with that choice, is the only path to long-run social change.

  2. Peter says:

    Voluntary celibacy before marriage seems to be largely a female phenomenon. Perhaps that is because sex has greater meaning to a woman, given that is the woman who can become pregnant. Or women could view sex in a more emotional manner, while to men it is more like a bodily function largely devoid of emotional connotations. Whatever the case, men who do not engage in sexual activity usually do so involuntarily, because they’re too Beta or otherwise off-putting to women.

  3. ? says:

    Peter’s generalization, applied to the broader secular society, is almost certainly correct. I would hasten to add, though, that among men with religious convictions on the proper role of sex in a life well lived, the generalization is much weaker.

  4. Gannon says:

    A female’s virginity only makes sense if she marries relatively young, that is in her late teens to early twenties. Virginity on a thirtysomething women seems sad and a waste. Men who want to marry maidens should ideally marry teen girls.

  5. Peter says:

    A female’s virginity only makes sense if she marries relatively young, that is in her late teens to early twenties. Virginity on a thirtysomething women seems sad and a waste. Men who want to marry maidens should ideally marry teen girls.

    I would imagine that most women who believe in saving themselves for marriage also believe in relatively young marriage.

  6. trumwill says:

    Phi,

    More often than not the rakes ask them out. It would stand to reason that those that are the most cavalier sexually would also be those most cavalier about asking them out in the first place, wouldn’t it? For the less popular ones, you’re not asking them to take a hit in status. You’re asking them to remove themselves nigh-entirely from the dating pool. I suppose they could actively court the guys they want, but that likely runs against their traditionalist grain, wouldn’t you think?

    I’m not sure how easily this is turned back on their behavior. Sure, there are the teases and the hypocrites, but that more-or-less explains their actions in that they want to have it both ways. The ones that are sincere I would imagine work in the constraints that they have, probably dating some guys that they later find out don’t share their values and in some cases saying yes to the only guys that ask them out, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

    In the abstract I can agree with what your saying. Eccentricities come with their costs and a lot of young people (and older people, for that matter) want to have it both ways where they can do what they want and then not be judged accordingly. So in that way I guess it’s something that you (and your fellow devouts) have to sell to your young people.

  7. trumwill says:

    Peter,

    I think it’s more to do that just the (not-entirely-inaccurate) stereotypes of sexual propriety. I think it also has to do with a woman’s social value going down (or at least not going up) with increased sexual experience while a guy’s social value goes up. I think it’s also worthy to note that men often hitch their self-esteems to their sexual access to the female population. By and large guys know that we will be considered “excuse-making” if we say that we’re saving ourselves for marriage. Most of the time, of course, that’s exactly what we’re doing :).

  8. trumwill says:

    Phi (again),

    Wouldn’t you agree, though, that amongst the dating population of a particular environment that there’s a gender skew that runs against females? In other words, they’d be facing a definite man-shortage that would require seriously devaluing all other attributes in favor of that one or opting out of the dating market entirely. Works out for the guys, of course, but it’s asking a lot of the girls.

  9. trumwill says:

    I actually agree with Gannon somewhat. It does seem like a waste to have people in some of their most beautiful years (though unlike Gannon I’m thinking younger twenties) waiting to get married when they won’t get married until later. As Peter points out, the solution to this is younger marriage. Unfortunately, modern society is not conducive to it.

  10. Gannon says:

    “Unfortunately, modern society is not conducive to it.”
    But that has always been one of my main points. The male should be in his late twenties and able to afford a family whereas the girl should be somewhere around the 16-22 years age range. Also, women should enter the workforce after marrying and raising their children until they are of schoolage. {The rest of the post redacted}

    {This post was modified by Trumwill to remove off-topic and/or offensive content}

  11. trumwill says:

    Gannon, I’ve given you some leeway here. Don’t abuse it. What I said about people marrying in their younger twenties does not naturally lead to what you say about marrying off teens to men ten years their senior.

    On a sidenote, when I say “Unfortunately…” I meant “unfortunately for religious people that want people to save themselves for marriage” not necessarily “unfortunately because society would be better off”. Of course, it’s quite possible society would be better off, but I really don’t know one way or the other. Seems to me that we’ve gotten to the point that we marry too late, but we’ve also created a society where I’m not sure we’re equipped to marry earlier (even in our low twenties).

  12. Gannon says:

    Almost everywhere in the world women can marry at 16, so relax a bit.

  13. ? says:

    Trumwill: I would concur that there is likely a gender skew running against females. But the problem isn’t even that men are insufficiently penalized for their sexual history; the problem, as you say, is that men are rewarded with an increase in status for their sexual history, and that this status is shared with and reflected by the women known to be paired with them.

    I have no illusions that this dynamic is likely to change in the broader society absent any generalized moral revival. But I would still argue that in any context wherein abstinence educators might receive a respectful hearing (and here I refer primarily to self-consciously religious contexts), it is not enough to tell women to “be chaste”; this only locks them in to the loosing game you described in your post. Women must exact a social price from men for their unchasity and require genuine contrition and repentance from those who have strayed.

    Unforunately, garden-variety evangelicals are probably too wooly-minded to pull this off. Another reason I despair for the future . . . .

  14. ty says:

    Almost everywhere in the world women can marry at 16, so relax a bit.

    The question is – are countries that regularly practice this places we want to emulate? There is no example of a country where half or more of the females marry in their teens that is also not mired in poverty, have poor educational outcomes for women, etc. Unsurprisingly, teen marriage is generally concentrated in the lower classes in the West and in developing countries that are on their way up, teen marriage also becomes relegated to the poorer segments of society.

  15. Spungen says:

    The dynamic you describe makes me ask rhetorically: why are women who aspire to chasity seeking to date these rakes to begin with? Why are they not dating (or, more specifically, courting) chaste men?

    Um, because THERE AREN’T ANY?!

    Outside of religious ghettos, virtually the only “chaste” men nowadays are men without options or desires. By the way, I’m basing this on a wealth of personal experience, not some cockamamie theory I got off some blog.

  16. Spungen says:

    Or P.S., the third option is men who don’t get along with anydamnone. Guys who don’t *want* relationships.

    Whenever I hear the loser’s lament (“Chicks dig jerks!”), here’s what I say: “Look me in the eye and tell me you never dumped anyone.” Then quickly follow up with: “Yeah, I know. She was crazy right?”

  17. ? says:

    Spungen: naturally I find the phrase “religious ghettos” somewhat off-putting, but otherwise you are probably correct. Indeed, as I have often confessed, absent a specific religious commitment, I myself would have a hard time coming up with a sufficiently compelling self-interested reason for remaining faithful.

    In practice, I suppose there are considerations of opportunity and the expectations of our extended family and the community(ies) in which we participate. But those kind of limitations and ways of organizing our lives are to some extent self-imposed: we must choose to submit to their authority. Which comes back to religion again.

  18. trumwill says:

    Spungen,

    I think that Phi’s comments are directed at least in part with girls that identify with the “religious ghetto”. A young woman that rejects religious views of sexuality is less likely to want to preserve her moral virtue through abstinence anyway. I guess the middle ground are the girls that you went to school with that held on to some Catholic views of sexuality while not holding on to the Church itself.

  19. trumwill says:

    One thought (an unoriginal one admittedly) that occurs to me is that there is a regional aspect to the virtuousness of abstinence. Abstinence programs don’t usually work (though the evidence is not exactly overwhelming for comprehensive sex-ed, either), but the overall intent of these laws are not as alien even to people that aren’t icky fundamentalists in some swaths of the country. Spungen refers to “religious ghettos” and in a lot of places I’m sure that’s a pretty accurate summation. In some places, though, the religious perspective on sex is the most common one (at least as far as lip-service goes). The young people I knew in Deseret, for instance, almost never bragged about having sex and those that did were countercultural. There wasn’t much social percentage in it.

    Where I was raised it was somewhere in between. I went to high school with 4,000 other people and there were different groups with different views of sexuality. If you wanted to be abstinent, there were groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where you could find guys that either wanted to be abstinent or wouldn’t be able to use a religious girl’s piety against her without losing stock among his friends. Professed Christianity was a popular position to take. I’d imagine that even in very red states with higher degrees of religiosity and without the sense of propriety that Mormons have the social costs would actually be somewhat higher for girls choosing to abstain.

    Spungen made a comment a whole back that I hooted at wherein jilted working class girls play by different rules when they’re angry. I’d imagine that without the restraint of top-20 middle-classicity and without the restraint of a tight social structure like the LDS provides, all rules are off if a guy (even one that proclaims to be a Christian) feels that he has been teased by his girlfriend. Can’t say for sure on that score.

  20. Peter says:

    It would be interesting to compare the percentage of devoutly religious people who abstain from pre-marital sex as compared to the percentage among more secular sorts. I don’t know if any such statistics exist, and in any event survey results might be unreliable (some religious people may be reluctant to admit to having sex, even with respect to anonymous surveys).

  21. trumwill says:

    I would imagine that it depends on the age, Peter. My guess is that in high school it probably actually favors seculars since seculars tend to be better off economically and that correlates with less risky sexual behavior. After a certain age, I’d say probably 21 or so, I’d say that it moderately goes the other way, with the only people abstaining being those doing so for religious reasons.

  22. Kirk says:

    I’d think it would make far more sense for men to be chaste than women. A woman can always get an abortion; a guy can’t get out of paying child-support.

    The law has reversed responsibilities, but no one seems to have adapted yet.

  23. Kirk says:

    Spungeon wrote:

    “Outside of religious ghettos, virtually the only “chaste” men nowadays are men without options or desires.”

    What’s your point? Sheesh. It’s as if you have contempt for guys who aren’t like Roissy.

  24. Req says:

    Indeed, as I have often confessed, absent a specific religious commitment, I myself would have a hard time coming up with a sufficiently compelling self-interested reason for remaining faithful.

    Well, plenty of non-religious people do manage to remain faithful, no? Holding on to one’s marriage & not wrecking one’s home, personal honor regarding one’s marital vows, avoiding the guilt involved in betraying one’s spouse, avoiding divorce & being separated from your kids & wife, etc. works for a lot of us.

  25. Spungen says:

    It’s as if you have contempt for guys who aren’t like Roissy.

    No, the guys I’m talking about are *exactly* like Roissy. Or at least like his readers. He’s an abusive male loser deluding bigger male losers.

    Oh, and Will, I forgot to mention that I think your scenario is on point. I might have told it a bit differently, but you’re basically correct. I disagree that guys wouldn’t invest time in Edna-manipulation, but agree about the retaliation.

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