Sunday, 12 February 2012

Is it Shameful to be a Virgin?


Okay last post on sex, I promise - this one from a slightly different angle. Is it shameful to be a virgin? 

Well it certainly ranks darn high on the uncool scale. Even higher than the replacement of 'damn' with 'darn'. And this amusing little Simpsons clip illustrates just how embarrassing we take it to be for anyone past a certain age to be a virgin. Even hinting that this post will take a negative answer places me within the range of ridicule. Most of us think it's 'sad' in the same way it's 'sad' for a fifty year old man to spend his evenings doing nothing but playing pokemon cards. And it isn't a reaction we feel ought to stop at private distaste; we think such a man should himself have a sense that his life choices are subpar, or unworthy, or trivial, or unfulfilling, or diminished, or generally lower in some sense. We want him to feel the sense of failure that we ourselves draw from his heavy investment in children's card games. The same would go for the virgin: pity them and think that they too should see the defect in their life and not be content with it. But should every virgin really have this feeling toward their life? I don't think so, and certainly the Christian virgin has no need to.

Seymour Skinner, the Simpsons character mocked in the video above, is a character designed to be a bit of a 'loser'. Even at his mature age, he lives with his mum, frequently takes orders from her, and generally doesn't have any real sense of power and control in his life. But what makes Seymour such a loser isn't the mere fact that he has these lacks, but the fact that he has them whilst wishing and striving not to.

Look it at this way; if I were to spend all the years of my life trying to win the X Factor, I wouldn't get very far (not being vocally talented and all). Of course, I could try; I could enter every year, spend thousands on vocal lessons, and dream about it daily. But I'd never get anywhere. I could pour all my time and effort into that goal to the exclusion of all else and never even have a chance of attaining it. Surely we'd think that, were I to do all that, I'd be a pitiable character. It would be a waste, a sad life; I should surely get over that dream, move on, utilise the talents I actually have. If all that effort paid off we might look at my life with more favour, but assuming that miracle wouldn't happen, my not coming anywhere close to winning the X factor would be seen as a lack that marks my life as a little wasted.

Of course, I have no such ambition to win the X factor in the real life I'm actually trying to lead. But note that in my real life these lacks are still present; I haven't won the X factor, nor do I have any chance of doing so. But these lacks don't seem to count against the richness of my life. Why? Because they aren't lacks in regard to a goal I'm actually pursuing. They are irrelevant to me. I have plenty of such lacks; I haven't won Wimbledon, or achieved grade 8 violin, or ran a successful business. But none of this is sad - these lacks don't represent failures so much as disinterest. I have other goals. But the same is likely true of the Christian virgin in regards to sex. He or she hasn't set sex as a goal. He or she might want it, eventually, within marriage, but they don't want it just as. Quite the opposite, they might find such an approach to sex contemptible - to be avoided.

This person is clearly quite different from the sort mocked in every sex-heavy comedy - y'know the one: the character (usually a guy) who's fixed on getting laid but who's woefully clumsy at every stage in getting there. Their desperation, coupled with their failure, does indeed strike us as pathetic. But what about the person who just isn't out for that? Who just isn't playing that game? Who has his/her sights set elsewhere? Surely, I would contend, there is nothing laughable in their virginity.

There is more to be said, however. It might be objected that there are lacks a person might have which he/she would lament, despite their current goals not relating to them, were they to see things properly. For instance, a life without friendship or companion is surely a pitiable one, but we can conceive of people who profess not to care about such things - people who live their lives with no real concern for them. We would rightly think that, contrary to these persons' own beliefs, their lives would in fact be richer for taking stock of friendship and loyality and the like. These people, we would think, are misguided about what makes for a full life. Likewise, the objector would claim, the Christian virgin is mistaken about the value of sex outside marriage. But it is important to note the relation between different conceptions of what a full life is, and different conceptions of what human beings are. 

A life without companionship is dimished, we surely think, because in some sense human persons are relational beings. It is natural, or God-intended, or cosmically ordained, or true to the forms (give it whatever articulation you like) for humans to have meaningful relationships with each other. The truth of the value of friendship in some sense depends on the truth of certain views of what humans are. The same goes for the importance of sex and whether it exceeds the confines of marriage. Hold a view of human persons in which it is natural (in a strong prescriptive sense) for us to have sex a lot, or that it is the point of our lives, or that it expresses some deep core of who we really are, and sex, in whatever context, will, as a result, come to take on a great importance in constituting a rich and full life. But these are views of human personhood that the Christian rejects.

If Christianity is true, then humans were created for sex in a certain narrow context - engaging in it outside that context would in fact be contrary to our "nature". The Christian, then, is able to see that sex is good, but has no basis for thinking that it is a necessary component of a rich life. Of course, if you hold a different view of human personhood, one more akin to those described in the preceding paragraph, then you'll think the Christian is wrong. And you're entitled to think that. But you shouldn't expect the Christian to share your evaluation. You're on different pages to one another as things stand. Of course, you can try and get him/her to see things your way, but that's the point - you'd need to bring them over to your side; as their beliefs/inclinations stand, they have absolutely no reason to feel shame if they're a virgin.

So Nelson can "ha-ha" at the Christian virgin if he wants but he's better off having a serious inter-ideological dialogue!

Now on to other topics...

(Note: I am not presuming in this post that all unmarried Christians are virgins. Many are not and many of us, alas, are only "technically" virgins.)

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