It is often supposed that chastity is more popular with women than with men: The hookup culture, like the sexual revolution more broadly, has apparently harmed men less than it has women. Men generally have a greater sex drive, making chastity more difficult. Women may be more affected than men by the chemicals involved in sex, making chastity more beneficial. By this view, women are easily destroyed by premarital sex, and the selfish men of modern society have neglected their (unpleasant) duty of withholding it from us; moreover, it is this same selfishness which prevents men from supporting chastity altogether.
In reality, the unfortunate prevalence of such reasoning in pro-chastity arguments may serve as a better explanation for why men have been less involved than women in the pro-chastity movement. It is insulting to deny that men can be affected by sex, for it implies that at an emotional level they are simply unfeeling sources of emotional stimulation for women, (potentially hazardous) objects for our consumption, lured in by the only sentiment of which they’re capable: a safe, carnal, and emotionally sterile desire. Such a view contrasts sharply with the pro-chastity arguments used about sexual gratification: people are not objects to be sexually consumed, and shouldn’t be treated as such.
Chastity is not simply a courtesy owed women. Nor is it a mechanism by which women can exchange sex for a promise of lifelong protection. Rather, it is a holistic treatment of the human person in accord with reality. The view of marriage as a trade is inadequate and foolish; it not only ignores love and misunderstands community, but also rests on the faulty assumption that women don’t enjoy sex, and that men don’t enjoy any element of marriage apart from it. Moreover, because it neglects love, such a view of marriage is objectifying, for if you do not love your partner you must instead view him as a pleasure generating object (or a child, money, or comfortable-social-situation generating one).
Yet so too is a view which suggests that men cannot be emotionally affected by sex, for that renders them emotional objects. If women were incapable of sexual desire, the marital act would necessarily be an objectifying one; similarly, if in relationships a man can sate all manner of a woman’s emotional desires without having any of his own, her pursuit of this aspect of such relationships is unloving, selfish, and objectifying. If men cannot be (negatively) affected by premarital sex, they presumably cannot be affected by any sort of sex; for women to seek personal emotional gratification from these unfeeling fellows is to overlook their humanity. Violence is done against them, whether they know it or not, just as to the unknowing victim of a peeping Tom, and even when the demands of physical chastity are met.
To maintain a robust view of marriage we then must admit that each of its particular aspects has an element of mutuality, and that men are also capable of being emotionally affected (and harmed) by relationships. On such an account, chastity is good for everyone, dissipated women and sensitive men included, and not just because it is the right thing to do.
Like any type of chastity, emotional chastity requires premarital restraint. Advocates of chastity should emphasize that it is wrong to fantasize about having children with a potential spouse, just as it is to fantasize about having sex. (And coming up with baby names is definitely out!) Moreover, emotional chastity provides many of the advantages of physical chastity.
The advantages of emotional restraint can perhaps best be seen by looking to the ways in which marriage combats sexual objectification. As Mary Geach argues in “Lying with the Body,” sex represents an offer of permanent monogamy, and even a verbal agreement to the contrary cannot strip it of this significance. Improper sexual acts are therefore essentially dishonest to both parties, and such dishonesty is contrary to love. Sex without love cannot but be objectifying, and by unifying sex with a context that enables its honesty, marriage fights objectification and furthers love.
Yet the same risk of objectification and unloving treatment is posed by other premarital emotions, relationships, and social structures. For instance, exclusive romantic affections are deceitful when not at least directionally permanent, and pose the same risks of entanglement and entrapment that do sex. Moreover, like premarital sex does, they condition us to view the particulars of marriage as commodities. “In exchange for your (emotional or sexual) faithfulness you have mine, agreement subject to termination by either party” is not good training for an arrangement in which fidelity is owed unconditionally by the very nature of the institution and regardless of either party’s behavior or subsequent decision. To maintain a similar fidelity prior to marriage–that is, not out of desire or happenstance, but out of duty–is to confuse the way in which marital fidelity is owed, and supposes the duty to be contingent on something non-structural. Marriage is entitled to these unconditional demands precisely for structural reasons: because it is directed beyond the couple to society, children, and God, it can make such claims without the temptations to self-obsession which would occur without such a structure.
The evils of sundering marriage’s particulars from the institution are a greater topic than can be addressed here, but they clearly condemn many premarital social and emotional practices which are generally accepted. This must change. If we’re to win the culture war and flourish we must respect marriage fully, abjuring sentimental novels as we do pornography, discouraging jealousy as we do lust, and resisting premarital (even emotional) exclusivity as we do premarital permanence and openness to life.
Organizations like the Love & Fidelity Network and the Anscombe Society have the opportunity to reach a much broader segment of the population by pursuing such arguments. People who don’t fully agree with us are likely to be more sympathetic to arguments against sentimentality than to arguments simply against premarital sex, in part because people often feel judged when they hear physical chastity advocated. Moreover, the enemies of schmaltz are the most natural proponents of chastity, for at its best it is the perfect counter to sentimentality; getting them on our side would be very valuable, and it might even be worthwhile to place an ad in The Onion.
Moreover, if we do accept the stereotypes that I’ve described–that men tend to objectify women by treating them as objects from which to derive sexual pleasure, and that women tend to objectify men by treating them as objects from which to derive emotional pleasure–embracing emotional chastity provides an opportunity to reach more men,. Such an approach would also serve to attract more feminists, who are likely to be less interested in a project which requires an imbalanced view of gender within marriage.
It is an unfortunate concession to the hookup culture that we have allowed chastity to develop anything of a niche identity. Chastity should be universal, and prior to views on societal gender roles. Moreover, an (even tacit) appeal to traditional gender roles is needless, and drives away the sort of woman who feel comfortable in the role of protector, as well as the men who need protection (especially those whose charming surnames provoke matrimonial lust in every woman they encounter).
Special Thanks to Audrey Pollnow. Audrey is a junior at Princeton University and the Vice-President of the Anscombe Society there.