Earlier today a friend shared a news story with me about a Christian couple who, after abstaining from sex for the 14-months of their relationship prior to their wedding, decided to remain abstinent during marriage. My first thought was, “Why?” This sentiment was shared by many others who were in the room and saw the article. “Why?” “That’s crazy!” “They must not want children.” Those were some of the responses the story yielded. I asked my friend to send it to me because I just knew it was something I needed to write about but I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say. Well it turns out that I have a few things to say concerning this matter. So let’s get to it.
First off, the Christian couple in question, Jon and Darla Crocker, are a fictional couple created by online comedy news site Lark News which satirizes Christian culture, specifically evangelical Christian culture. The story originally appeared on Lark News in September 2012 and has been making its rounds again for reasons that I’m not sure of. What is interesting to me about this story is people’s reactions. It seems that most people believe the story is true, which I can understand if you are looking at it from a stereotypically Evangelical Christian perspective.
Here you have a Christian couple practicing abstinence, a practice that is fairly common among pre-marriage Evangelical Christian couples–with varying degrees of what defines one as abstinent because I have known couples who swore off french-kissing before marriage because its potential to arouse while other couples consider everything except for sex to be permissible. But just when you expect them to break their pledge because they’ve taken their vows, this couple reversed the trend and decided to remain abstinent. When I read this, despite the fact that the story documented the couple remaining abstinent in marriage, it wasn’t shocking to me. Yes I wondered why they were doing it, but I never questioned their truth. Of course it is possible that this couple who dedicated themselves to abstinence before marriage have decided that they wanted to remain so in marriage. I understood it on the grounds of being someone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in churches that have only given me sex-negative education. I went through a “True Love Waits” campaign in high school and subsequently broke my ring in both the literal and figurative sense. I have sat through plenty of sermons about the dangers of having sex before marriage and how, even if I slept with my betrothed, my relationship would go up in flames because it is now being driven by “the flesh.” I have spoken to married people who, though sexually active within marriage, find it difficult to erase the sex-negative teachings of the church out of their consciousness. So given all of this it isn’t too far-fetched that I would believe a story about a couple who chooses to stay abstinent after the wedding day and two years into marriage.
I admit that it is sad that I could believe a story like this because of what I view as the church’s overwhelmingly pessimistic view of sex for anyone who isn’t already married or on the way to being married. I admit that there are churches that have sex-positive teachings–though I’ve never been to one of those churches. I’m concerned about what it means to believe a story like this before I am doubt it. But I am also slightly challenged by it.
After I moved away from the crowd during my first look at the story and away from the screen on my second look I wondered, “What could be so wrong if this was actually the case?” As someone who desires to do work in sexual ethics in the theoretical realm an academic and practically as a sexuality educator, it occurred to me that it was necessary to engage the question from an unconventional perspective. What if abstaining in marriage is right for these people for reasons unbeknownst to us? What if this is a form of justice for these two people and it is not a matter of their being so heavily indoctrinated by the church to believe that sex is negative, but they are acting against the world which has made sex necessary by any means? Now do not misunderstand me when I say this, I do know that there are scriptural claims–Godly demands even–for sex within covenant relationships and narratives about sex outside of covenant relationships, but I also believe that there is a possibility that the revelation of God might also lead two people to abstain for a time–or forever–within marriage. And there is scriptural claim for even that. So what if that is the case? How does that change our response to a story like this? We can become so used to claiming our right to sex that we forget that there are people who view sex as such a privilege that they can’t enter into it lightly, even within marriage.
I’m going to end this abruptly just because I don’t know how to end it otherwise. I took the time to write about this because this has resonated with me in a particular way and reminds me of the work that I have ahead of me as, prayerfully, a doctoral student and as a future sexuality educator. Stories like this remind me of my passion for the people that the church has miseducated regarding sex and it convicts me not to get so swallowed up in our culture’s dominant narrative and assessment of sex that I forget about my tradition’s views, both the harmful and helpful perspectives.
If you’ve made it this far in the post I’d love to hear your thoughts. Could you ever be pro-abstinence in marriage even temporarily? Could you believe such a story about an abstinent couple if you heard it? What has the church taught you about sex that you find helpful or harmful? Let’s talk about sex.