Passion and Purity, Chapter 1, pg. 23-24
What do women want today? What do men want? I mean, deep down. What do they really want? If “times” have changed, have human longings changed too? How about principles? Have Christian principles changed? I say no to the last three questions, an emphatic no. I am convinced that the human heart hungers for constancy. In forfeiting the sanctity of sex by casual, nondiscriminatory “making out” and “sleeping around,” we forfeit something we cannot do well without. There is dullness, monotony, and sheer boredom in all of life when virginity and purity are no longer protected and prized. By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.
I also do not think that Christian principles or human longings have changed. So that’s something we have in common!
But I’m not sure what she is getting at when she immediately follows that with “the human heart longs for constancy.” By “constancy” does she mean, “marriage”? Or “sex with only one person”? Or “strict social rules about virginity and marriage”? All of the above? It’s a bit unclear, but I think she means that we humans are most satisfied when are emotionally and socially secure in either marriage or committed singlehood/virginity. That way we don’t have to deal with any emotional chaos of who’s-sleeping-with-whom? or what does this relationship mean? And I buy this, sort of. I love being in a committed relationship. Marriage is awesome! I really like that she contrasted “constancy” with “monotony” — they are indeed not the same thing, and it’s valuable to recognize this. But some people really, really should not be married. Some people enjoy making out but not sleeping around. Some people don’t think sex is all that sacred, but don’t want to sleep around, either. Some people think both making out and sleeping around are for the birds. Some people…well, you get the picture. In short: it’s pretty presumptuous to prescribe one type of sexual expression for all of humanity (!) based on the weakly defended assertion that we all long for “constancy” above all. (She doesn’t even provide a Bible verse to support it!)
And I really just don’t know what to make of her claim that when we stop prizing virginity, we get boredom in all of life!
My best guess is that she means that so much sex-everywhere-all-the-time-sex has dulled our senses to the point that even sex is not sexy any more. But just as singleness is not comprised solely of virginity, personhood is not comprised solely of sexuality. Even if someone does have sexual hang-ups, even if someone is bored of all things sex because they’ve been around the block too many times, it just doesn’t follow that sexual boredom will extend to every other aspect of life. And Elliot is making a grander claim than even that: she’s saying that boredom will descend upon us not only after we’ve already slept around, but by merely not prizing virginity. In other words, she’s not saying, “If you sleep around, you’ll become jaded and sex will be boring.” She seems to be saying, “As soon as virginity falls from a place of utmost importance in your life, your life will become super dull.” This simply doesn’t make sense. (But if someone else has a different interpretation, please share! I’m stumped.)
I think there’s merit to her last line: by trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere. It’s true that if you are not focused on a goal, if you’re overwhelmed with options, it is difficult to see something through to satisfaction. Jack of all trades, master of none, etc. This is true in work, in personal projects, and in relationships: it’s generally good to focus on a few things you really want rather than try to have it all.
But, again, I don’t really see how this relates to her previous claim that not prizing virginity leads to dullness and monotony: perhaps it means that if you’re trying to get fulfillment from lots of people, you can’t hope to have a meaningful relationship with that one special someone? If so, ok, we can work with that, but I’m having trouble connecting the dots.
So let’s review her argument in the book so far:
1. Prizing virginity results in both personal fulfillment and social order.
2. Back in the day, virginity was prized. Everyone understood that women traded their virginity for a marriage commitment from men.
3. Thanks to the recent sexual revolution, people started believing that virginity wasn’t all that important after all.
4. People now think they can find fulfillment by sleeping around instead of choosing and being faithful to a spouse.
5. This has caused a breakdown in social order as well as a deficit of personal fulfillment because of the lack of constancy.
6. Therefore, people nowadays are confused and bored and we all need to to re-learn how to prize virginity.
The main thing that strikes me here is how little accommodation she makes for other variables that might have something to do with this take on modern sexuality. For example, just off the top of my head: are people really more bored now than they were before, or are they just more comfortable talking about it? Is constancy the thing people seek the most, or do they seek other things in equal measure (love, relationship, etc)? Does this depend on their circumstances and if so, how? (And, on that note, how are we defining constancy, and is that what people say they’re seeking or is it just Elliot’s interpretation?)
The second thing that strikes me is how little accommodation she makes for different experiences–and, by extension, different people. Let’s consider: someone having sex in a committed and mutually respectful dating relationship where communication is open and boundaries are honored vs. someone having sex in a committed dating relationship who treats his/her partner in a controlling way, cheats whenever the opportunity presents itself, and doesn’t respect his/her partner’s personal or sexual boundaries. Everyone would (I hope!) agree that these two examples are qualitatively different, and, moreover, one is better. It is better to be having sex with someone who respects you than to be having sex with someone who doesn’t! But in the all-or-nothing paradigm presented here, neither of these people “prize virginity” so each is in the wrong: immoral, unfulfilled, and bored.
So far, I think Elliot is at her strongest when she’s telling us how instead of why. If I had picked up this book looking for some good reasons to stay a virgin, I would remain unconvinced (“So…if I have sex, I won’t find a man to marry me and also I’ll be really bored? That doesn’t seem right.”) But so far, the few parts where she tries to empathize with the reader–“I’ve been there, and this is what it was like”— are pretty successful.