There is really nothing more to say--except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye.
The traditional teaching of chastity to our teenagers goes something like, "Sex outside of marriage is wrong." Then, it's followed by a laundry list of things one mustn't do so that you couldn't possibly have sex before marriage: touch any area covered by a swimming suit, be alone with a boy in the basement watching movies, be alone with a girl in a car with a bench seat, look at pornography on the Internet, and (this is my personal one) listen to and see any Shakira videos (Have you see the She-wolf video? It's depraved. And I'm desensitized). The repercussions of such activities are dread: Illegitimate children, sexual disease, immorality, loss of virginity. All those things that might possibly happen and which would spell the end of life as you know it. And so, sexual intimacy is run through with a thread of fear, colored with the forbidden, and becomes a place to either run from or to peer around the edge at with the morbid curiosity of children, forbidden to eat sugar, looking into the pantry of their friend, whose mother apparently owns stock in General Mills.
But then our children notice images, sounds, lyrics, dialogue that portrays sex generally--inside and outside of marriage--as really rather fun. During their first forays into sexual intimacy, the feelings that accompany their exploration are exhilarating. Those feelings don't feel wrong, in and of themselves. How does something supposed to be so wrong feel so good? There's a disconnect between what they hear at church and possibly at home and what they feel within themselves.
For the sake of my children, of my almost-adult Julia, and my three boys who are charging into sexual maturity and therefore sexual interest, there must be a better way to teach the principle that sexual purity, even waiting until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse, is a better way. Not the only way, we have to recognize, but a better way than the satisfying of an appetite that is commonly portrayed. And, teaching a better way must center on principles, not laundry lists of what actions are wrong, until you both say “Yes,” and then the whole smorgasbord is open for business (Because that in and of itself is a little confusing; at least it was for me).
What reason is there for reserving physical intimacy for marriage, besides, the Lord forbade it? In all honesty, the logical reasons that WERE given for maintaining moral purity aren't as convincing anymore.
Traditionally, I would think, the concern for children born outside of marriage and their accounting for in the legal system drove much of the proscriptions against extra-marital sex. However, given the development of science and technology, some of the traditional reasons for abstaining from sex until marriage don't apply anymore. Birth control prevents the conception of unwanted children. Thus, careful people (adults and teenagers) can engage in sex 99.5 percent of the time without getting pregnant.
If birth control should fail (real birth control, taken regularly, every day at the same time, not like the 7 out of 10 pills I took before our July 7 wedding which method resulted in Julia Rose due April 8 of the next year) and a child is conceived and delivered, then science can now take care of prickly legal issues. The fetus can now be aborted in relative physical safety to the mother--one option. Or the child can be delivered and adopted out--another option. Or, the child can be kept without many of the legal and social ramifications that used to haunt "illegitimate" or "bastard" children.
Blood and DNA testing allows one to establish paternity even if the parents are not married to each other. This allows children born outside of a marriage to lay claim to inheritances, land, and other benefits of identifying their biological father. This also allows the mother to lay claim on support for the child from the biological father.
If, as we read in law school, a wife, married to a husband, should have sex with a man outside of her marriage that results in a child, prior to DNA testing, the law recognized the child as the husband's, even though he didn't contribute any DNA to the child. The law still does recognize that child as legally his. But, if that frisky sire was really rich, then, today, the child could establish the identity of its biological father through DNA testing and lay legal claim to a share of its rightful inheritance. Or, as in the case of Anna Nicole’s child, if the child turns out to be really rich, the father could use DNA to establish it was his contribution that spawned the child and so get at the family jewels that way.
So, children born without the legal identity of a father can now inherit. Women who give birth without the financial protection of a husband can now lay claim for support. Sex does not generally end in pregnancy. Sexual diseases can be treated, although not entirely cured so one doesn't have to watch one's nose rot off as used to be the case with syphilis. But, the prohibition remains: no sex outside of marriage.
Traditional science would have us believe that actions of the body are separate actions. Descartes theorized that the world was like a clock, made of separate parts, and all science/philosophy had to do to understand existence was to break apart the pieces. In his theory of dualism, the mind and the body were distinct entities. The mind exists apart from the body, and does not exist in space. Likewise, the body exists but does not think. In a theory like this, one could, I suppose, engage in repeated sexual acts without them having an effect on the mind or the soul.
In the middle of the century, quantum mechanics challenged the theory of separation. Quantum mechanics views the world as being in constant dynamic interaction; nothing, no event nor action, is independent of all others and exists in and of itself. In a world interpreted by quantum mechanics, separate events are not really separate. All events are interconnected and interdependent. Every part of the body knows what the other parts of the body are doing and responds accordingly. Every part of the soul is aware of what the body is doing, and responds accordingly.
Given that, I believe that our body and spirit respond in kind to when the body and heart move toward intimacy. A heart that begins to love will move the body to press forward. A body that becomes intimate will inspire a heart to long for sustained, emotional intimacy. When one happens without the other, the physical and spiritual pathways get confused and work against each other.
Remember Julia Roberts as Vivian in Pretty Woman? Her rule was she did not kiss on the lips. She could do all other sexual acts, but kissing on the lips, requires an intimacy and an honesty that disturbed her. Kissing requires face time; it's a moment of truth: the moment in which you smell him, taste his breath, his skin, and you look into his eyes. The moments where you find out, in a precursor, whether you fit together. I imagine Vivian thought that if she did not kiss, then she did not have to engage in the soul-seeking and -identifying behavior that accompanies kissing. Because, in a very real way, a kiss is always a question: Who are you? Will you? Can I? Under the influence of the kiss, the body and soul, working in awareness of each other, respond according to design.
I realize that not all cultures kiss like Western cultures do; but there must be some other method of intimacy that precedes intercourse itself and that serves as a gateway to the assessment of whether this body fits with my body, and thus this soul with my soul. Eskimos stand nose to nose. Still she breathes him in. Other cultures press forehead to forehead. Another moment to stop, to breathe, to smell and to wait for him to register, like a bolt sliding home, or a lock tumbling open.
Like kissing, physical intimacy is the portent of a promise. When a woman opens herself to a man and takes him into her body, she opens the center of herself to him. The opening of her body mirrors the opening of a soul. I know there's sex when the grocery list is running through your head, but, then there are other times. Those times when your eyes are wide open, and you can see, as you can feel, through his and through him to the very center, not just of your own union, but almost to the meaning of us all.
In traditional Episcopalian wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom vow: “with my body I thee worship.” This language of betrothal promises that each party will use their body to reverence the other. In this vow, physical intimacy becomes, in a very real way, the reverencing of your spouse. The use of “worship” also suggests that physical intimacy is more than just a linking of bodies, but is instead an activity of both body and soul. When joined, the bodies become the physical evidence of the emotional and spiritual commitment. It's this act, fittingly, that has the potential to give rise to another human being.
Some try to characterize sexual intimacy as just the fulfilling of a bodily appetite, like urination or hunger. The teaching of sex as an appetite, and talking about it as “having” ignores the interconnected body/spirit reality in which we live. This thinking returns us to the Cartesian duality of a separate body and mind. In my life, spirit, blood, and muscle are all connected. I cannot promise with my body and renege with my spirit without causing an effect in my life, in the life of the person I join with, and in the lives of those who follow me and him. The lie at the center of that impatient act colors everything.
How many times can one open one’s very center to another person and another person and another person without being torn apart? The incongruency between the intimate body and the uncommitted heart and mind would lead, I am convinced, to a broken idealism. Each encounter of bodily intimacy would call out to a wary heart, begging it to follow, promising, like the boy who cried “Wolf,” that this time it’s for real. If that were me, and I’m speaking only for me, I would fracture under the duplicit hopefulness of it all.
Because it is tied, at the heart of its function, to the creation of another human being, and to the clothing of a soul, sex is more than just appetite. Because it has the capacity to open worlds, and to allow men and women to participate in the creation of another world, sex is more than just biology. Because physical intimacy, not even sex, can leave you feeling discarded and utterly bereft, it's better entered into body and soul. Because I have been there and been part of it when it has taken me to the very center of myself, and my husband, I recognize and will teach that sex is always about the body and the soul—mine, his and the ones that will be.
For me, physical intimacy is, literally, about “making love”; it’s about giving and about receiving. It’s not about “having” sex, like having a drink of water or a swig of condensed milk. It’s an act of building, of repromising, and of closing the gap. It can be worship of the most poignant, tender kind that fills body and soul with wonder. Those moments are more likely to be found with the one with whom you fit, whose breath and smell you know and love, whom you have vowed to stand by and to support and to whom you have returned time and time again.
For all these reason, I will teach my children it’s better to wait.
From: Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"