Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sex, Lies, and You - part III of III

This series of posts is in direct response to this blog post and the related discussion below.  As much fun as comment whack-a-mole is, it does get time-consuming and exhausting.  So I decided to organize my thoughts and put them all in one place. 

Other thoughts –

We tend to focus so myopically on sex, whether you’re abstinence-only or pro-sex education.  We (as a whole) have completely lost sight of relationships.  Not enough people know how to build and maintain good relationships, and not nearly enough people know how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship.  Among the relationship guidance I’ve encountered, I see two types:

1) Marriage is sacred and lifelong.  Do not ever consider divorce under any circumstances, for thou shall be singlehandedly responsible for the decline and fall of Western civilization.  Yea, though you have just returned from the ER after being treated for a head wound, and though you have long forgotten what it feels like to have sex out of love instead of out of physical coercion, thou shall continue to serve thy husband and meditate upon your failings as a wife. 

2) Leave at the drop of a hat.  He had a bad day and said something snappy?  Gone.  She had a bad day and said something snappy?  Gone.  Who care if you have built a 10-year marriage and have 2 children, a house, and a dog?  GTFO.  Now.

I’m exaggerating, obviously, but not by much.  I would like to think most people have more sense than that, but if you reach a point where you seriously need some guidance, there really isn’t anything useful out there.  Although I recently found reason to hope, because this is exactly the type of advice we need more of; notice how he states practically verbatim the concerns I have in his first paragraph.

And don’t even get me started about those “how to pick your spouse” guidelines.  (Here and here are just the first two that caught my eye).  One Christmas my mom even gave me “The ABC’s of Choosing a GoodHusband.”  After I was already married.  Thanks, Mom.

My litmus test for “how to choose your spouse” guidance is in two parts:

1) Would it have helped me avoid my hellish first marriage?
2) Would it have steered me toward my husband?

In every single case, the answer is “no,” and “no.”  Frankly, this is disturbing to me.  I would LOVE to find something that would have helped me avoid my first marriage, because I would LOVE to shout it from the mountaintops, email it to everyone, tape it on everyone’s desk …. you name it.  No one should have to go through what I went through.

If I could re-design our sex-ed classes, I would incorporate a mental health focus as well as a physical focus.  I would like to see some broader, more comprehensive discussion about relationships, and sex in that context.  Let’s talk about:

1) the types of things you find in good relationships, and what sex means in a good, committed, long-term relationships.  (Here’s a clue – it’s not like the movies)

2) the types of things you can do to be a good partner  (Here’s a clue – also not like the movies)

3) the types of things you find in abusive relationships, including some early warning signs and how sex can be used as a weapon in these types of relationships (Just for fun – Edward Cullen is example A)

4) how to figure out whether you can fix your relationship or need to leave

5) how to fix your relationship / how to leave safely

6) resources for fixing / leaving

7) lots and lots of examples and case studies

8) Sex -  What it means in a committed relationship (a lot), and what it means in a casual relationship (virtually nothing).  Emphasize that relationship symmetry cannot be assumed and cannot be easy to determine; this holds true for time and emotional investment, not just sex.  Interestingly, your best chances of relationship symmetry are really two extremes: one-night stands and marriage.  Let’s cover nuts and bolts, birth control, the fact that there is ALWAYS a risk of STD transmittal, and the fact that there is ALWAYS a chance that you will create new life.  New life is an awesome responsibility, and every sexually active person should have a plan for any new life that may be created.  Here’s a clue: abortion is not a plan.

“But Athena,” I hear.  “That’s WAY too much ground to cover!”  Oh yeah?  Too bad.  Without any discussion of context, discussion about sex means nothing.  We have such a void and a lack of wisdom regarding relationships, and we need to fix it. 

“But Athena,” I hear the conservatives say, “that’s what parents are for.  They model a healthy marriage so that their children know what to look for in a spouse.”  Awesome.  First of all, they’re not doing it.  They’re just doing the same “Sex is bad, mmkay?” that everyone else is doing.  Second, having one healthy relationship as a model isn’t particularly useful.  What if you know that model isn’t for you? 

I’ll give you an example - my parents have a healthy marriage.  They must – they’ve been together for 40 years and they both seem happy.  In their marriage, my mom calls all the shots and my dad is basically along for the ride.  Also, my mom disdains physical affection.  How many guys do you know that would put up with that dynamic? What if I actually enjoy affection?  Am I wrong?  How do I know what elements of their marriage are “healthy” and to be emulated?  How do I know what elements are completely subjective?

My husband and I also have a healthy marriage; we love each other and are ridiculously happy.  We decide things together and are very affectionate with each other and with our children.  I don’t follow their example at all.  If I had tried to, I would be with someone who was completely wrong for me, and I would likely be miserable.

So here I am.  Just me speaking out about the lies I was told and how what I was “supposed” to do would have been destructive to me.  Doing what I can to share the truth so that hopefully no one else has to go through what I went through. 

Sidebar –

At one point I was accused of being “sanctimonious.”  I assume that’s because I momentarily prattled on about “truth” like it’s a thing and made a reference to an omniscient God that I believe in.  I further assume that it’s because I invoked “truth” and “God” with regard to things that this individual didn’t agree with.  So let’s take a step back – if someone sounds “sanctimonious” when they don’t agree with you, why do you expect to communicate effectively when you are being sanctimonious yourself?  Food for thought.  Maybe think carefully about what you want to say and how you say it to maximize how receptive people are to what you want to say.

But damn – every once in a while it sure is fun to get a little “sanctimonious” and watch people get mad!  Not nice, I know – but fun!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sex, Lies, and You - part II of III

This series of posts is in direct response to this blog post and the related discussion below.  As much fun as comment whack-a-mole is, it does get time-consuming and exhausting.  So I decided to organize my thoughts and put them all in one place. 

“If you have sex before marriage, your marriage will be forever cheapened and your bond will be forever lessened.”

See also: “If you have sex before marriage, you will forever be comparing your spouse to previous lovers.”

Really?  Based on what?  How do you know?

Part of the problem with discussing this type of issue is that people have generally walked one path or another, and they have no genuine concept of what it’s like to walk the other path.  Plus, for some reason, people feel the need to degrade anyone who has chosen differently than they have.  I think that must be where we’ve gotten all these myths and lies about sex; I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to slut-shame.

I don’t know anyone who compares their spouse / significant other to previous partners.  I don’t do it, my husband doesn’t do it, none of my friends do it.  What the pro-abstinence group fails to understand is that each relationship is unique such that there’s really no such thing as a comparison; it’s a non sequitur.  Now, that doesn’t stop SOME people from trying; except they’re not really comparing – they’re purposely trying to make their current partner feel bad about themselves.  Again, the issue is not the sex; the issue is the abusive person trying to emotionally bludgeon their partner.

“If you have sex before marriage, you will forever struggle with infidelity.”

It boggles my mind that people seriously think that there’s no difference between having sex with someone while single (i.e. not committed to anyone), and cheating on your spouse (whom you have committed to).

I chalk this up to (again) people with no understanding of interpersonal relationships spouting baseless universals.  Here’s a clue: if you waited for sex until your wedding night, you have no basis from which to tell the rest of us what we are or will be experiencing.

“After the sexual revolution, marriage as a whole went down the toilet.  Therefore sexual permissiveness leads to bad marriages.”

What kind of permissiveness?  The kind of permissiveness where you think it’s okay to break a vow of fidelity you made to your spouse?  Yep, that’ll do it.  But that’s not usually the kind of permissiveness people are talking about.

So, a few other things were happening simultaneously around that time.  Recall that from about 1945 on, we would send large groups of PTSD-afflicted men home to their families and act like nothing had happened.  Mental health support for returning soldiers was even more nonexistent than it is now.  So what happened?  Abuse.  Lots and lots of abuse.(*)  These were very sick men and we released them on our most vulnerable people – women (pre-feminism) and children.  PatrickStewart discusses his particular experience with great wisdom.  Suddenly there’s a lot fewer people teaching their children about love and healthy relationships.  Suddenly a lot more children grow up without an example of what a healthy relationship is.  And we blame the decline in marriage on sexual permissiveness?  One has nothing to do with the other.

(*) This is the closest thing I could find on my assertion, and here is the post it came from.  Notice the spikes that kinda sorta coincide with when PTSD men would be coming back from combat.  I am actually having  a really hard time finding support either way for my assertion – I dunno, maybe I fail at Google?  I would genuinely appreciate anything that you could direct me toward, because I want to know if I am right or wrong.  I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that if the rate of homicide peaked, the rate of domestic violence peaked, because both result from mentally ill people.

“Married sex is the best sex.”

This is mostly true.  Except when it’s not.

See also: “Sex outside of marriage is inherently abusive.”

Marriage is not a magic wand, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to the Cult of Virginity folks.  Again, see my earlier point about symmetry in relationships.  Sex within marriage can be plenty demeaning and abusive, as I experienced in my first marriage.  All of the sex I had outside marriage (even the casual sex) was far more healthy, both emotionally and spiritually than ANY of the sex I had in my first marriage.  After I finally got divorced (and I thank God every day for the existence of no-fault divorce), all the sex I had afterward brought me joy and healing and made me ready to be a good wife to my second husband.  Sex with my husband now is by far and away the best sex ever, because of the love we share and because of the marriage we have built.  Everything I did before my husband just pales in comparison and fades into the background.  Not sure how my experience before is "cheapening" my relationship with my husband if it occupies exactly zero space in my mind.

“If you have sex before marriage the relationship will become all about the sex.”

Tell me, what’s to stop a relationship from becoming all about the sex after marriage, hmm? 

If I may submit for your consideration, couple A and couple B.

Couple A – Has sex on the first date (or third, or twelfth – doesn’t matter).  Lives together for about a year, goes through some really formative experiences together, and decide to get married because they are right for each other.

Couple B – Decides to wait for sex until marriage.  Spends their days counting down to the wedding date, unable to think or talk about anything except how they can’t wait to have sex with each other.  Sure they talk about their compatibility, but it’s all theoretical since their various assertions of “oh we’re so perfect together!” are never really put to the test.  Plus they have a bad case of “saying what they think the other person wants to hear” since they can’t stand the thought of starting all over in the dating pool and waiting even LONGER to have sex.

Which one of these relationships is “all about sex” again?  That’s what I thought.

Far too frequently, people that are waiting until marriage rush down the aisle far too quickly so that they can have sex, only to find out, after the sexual tension is gone, that they are horribly wrong for each other.

“But Athena,” I hear, “your example couples don’t really exist.  The male in couple A wouldn’t even ask for a second date because he doesn’t respect the female.  That’s just how guys work.  And couple B would never happen because people who are waiting until marriage are very careful about who they marry and wouldn’t make that mistake.”

Oh really?  Would it blow your mind to know that couple A is my husband and me?  Lived together for 9 months, married for 5 years (so far).  He loves my daughters like his own and we just had a baby boy in May.

Couple A is also a couple in our group of friends.  Lived together for 5 years, married for 2 years (so far).

As for couple B, how else do you explain the significantly higher divorce rate in populations where people are religious and get marriedyoung?  Hmmmm?  (Not perfect congruence, obviously, because there are other factors at work.  But you can’t ignore this factor.)

“Just because everybody’s doing it doesn’t make it okay.”

Maybe not.  But you can’t go around claiming that sex outside of marriage will lead to the utmost of disasters and the end of the world when almost everybody is doing it and civilization has yet to collapse.  In fact, most people seem to do just fine, with no ill effects.

Well, you can claim that the sky is falling, simply because no one is stopping you, but no one will take you seriously.  And you have no one to blame but yourself and your hyperbole.