All posts by Arleen Spenceley

Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin (Ave Maria Press, 2014). She has a master's degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling from the University of South Florida and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the same university. She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and blogs at arleenspenceley.com.

Fr. Mike Schmitz, on Discerning Vocations: “Be More Courageous”

This post is part of a monthly series on my blog, called PRIESTS & NUNS ARE COOL! in which I interview a priest or a nun about his or her vocation — and about how adults who haven’t discerned a vocation yet can discover their own. This edition features Fr. Mike Schmitz, the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth.

father-mike-300x300I almost met Fr. Mike Schmitz once. He was a keynote speaker where I was a chaperone: at a Steubenville ATL youth conference.

Our paths crossed but neither my schedule nor his provided the time for us to chat, which, let’s face it, was a bummer. But Fr. Mike and I have connected since, because the Internet.

Fr. Mike — a killer homilist (my words, not his) who aims to be a better man, priest, friend and relative, and to find new ways to share who Jesus Christ is and to help people encounter Him — is gracious to discuss his vocation for this series, and to tell us how an adult who doesn’t know his or hers yet might discover it:

 

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A). Batman
B). A Lifeguard
C). A cross country ski instructor by day and guitar-playing singer at night in Vail, CO.

When did you decide you would become a priest?

I went to confession when I was 15 and I encountered God in a real, powerful, and personal way. Soon after that moment, I wondered if God would want me to be a priest. Fast forward almost 10 years, a couple of wrestling matches with the Lord, and a close brush with almost getting married and it was clear one day when I was in Adoration that I needed to at least give the seminary a try.

How did you know you were called to be a priest?

I used my brain. (That sounds sarcastic, but I mean it). Sometimes people get “signs,” but most often God lets us use the tools He has already given us, like our minds. With good counsel, a lot of prayer (so I would know the truth about who God really is), and a good amount of reflection, it was just very clear that God had been inviting me to at least take a step in this particular way.

What’s the best part (or best parts) of being a priest for you?

That is like asking “What is the best part of being married to X?” : ) The best part is knowing that God has called me to do this, and when I do it, I am saying “yes” to His will.

What should a young adult do who still isn’t sure what his or her vocation is?

Choose to grow in virtue. You will need to be virtuous no matter what your vocation is. Pray every day. Sacrifice for others (God and the people around you) on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be huge, just something. Stay close to the Sacraments. Get more data. This means doing more than “wondering.” It means getting out there and finding more information (visiting a seminary or religious order, or asking the person out). Be more courageous than you have been.

The Single Best Way to Reduce Abortions

When Lisa Selin Davis told a cabdriver she was going to have an abortion, he pulled the car over on the Brooklyn Bridge in a blizzard. He begged her not to do it. Davis, then a 22-year-old aspiring filmmaker, had conceived the child with a married man she met at a film shoot. But she “didn’t want that baby, with that man,” she wrote in an essay that recently printed in the Perspective section of the Tampa Bay Times.

The story is sad but bold. When Davis resisted the cabdriver’s appeal, he took her to the clinic to which she had asked him to take her, where after it was over, she woke up sobbing in pain and a paper gown. She was sure she would never be a mother. She was wrong. Fifteen years later, she wrote, she gave birth to a daughter and later, to another. And, she added, “I want my daughters to have the option of safe and legal abortion, of course. I just don’t want them to have to use it.”

Davis’s is one of countless voices that roots for the right to choose to abort despite an admitted distaste for abortion. Abortion is regarded and protected by many as a “necessary” evil — a procedure to be avoided, but to be accessible for when other options are undesirable. Davis wants her daughters to have the right to choose to abort but she doesn’t want them ever to have to exercise it. In the essay, she doesn’t say what her daughters can do to avert ever feeling like they need to. Other voices like hers have made suggestions:

In the essay’s combox, a commenter wrote that abortion can be avoided by teaching “safe” sex, and making it easier for people to access contraception. In a recent tweet, author Rachel Held Evans issued a reminder “that the single best way to reduce abortions is to make birth control more accessible and affordable.” These suggestions are problematic because they propose – rather ambitiously – that the path to the prevention of abortion can begin at sex.

But that implies that conception is the problem, and that “not using contraception” is what causes it. It doesn’t consider the possibilities that conception isn’t the problem; that contraception — which has created a perceived gap between sex and procreation — is part of the problem; and that sex’s status quo in our culture can and should be transcended. It dismisses the true single best way to reduce abortions: practicing chastity.

Chastity acknowledges that “not using contraception” does not cause conception, and that sex at just the right time does. It acknowledges that consent alone doesn’t make sex safe, and condoms don’t make sex safe — that who you’re having sex with and when and why affects sex’s safety, too. Chastity acknowledges that the path to the prevention of abortion cannot start at sex, but must start at birth or adoption, when we’re chosen; that it must continue in our homes, where our parents are supposed to start our sexuality education; that the prevention of abortion does not depend on contraception, but on the the definition of sex (which — for chaste people — is a sacred, physical sign of the commitment spouses made to each other on the altar where they were married, ultimately designed to bond them and to make babies).

Chastity eliminates extramarital pregnancy because it eliminates nonmarital sex. Chastity eliminates unwanted pregnancies within marriage because married couples who practice chastity also practice NFP. And because pregnancy is never not valued for people who practice chastity, even if achieved when a couple that uses NFP planned to avoid a pregnancy. Chastity eliminates conception in rape because a person who practices chastity does not rape.

But chastity is widely dismissed. It is sometimes scoffed. It is a cure that a culture rejects because using a Band-Aid is easier, because we are desperate to prove we can have our cake and eat it, too.

Chastity accepts that we can’t.

Click here to read Davis’s essay in full.

Why Chaste People Should Get Uncomfortable

Ten years ago, I crossed a modest stage in a well-lit gymnatorium at a private, Protestant school. I was one of 14 high school seniors who wore royal blue caps and gowns and breathed happy sighs of relief upon being given what meant more to us than diplomas:

Freedom.

For me, freedom meant transition. It meant I turned from a Catholic kid in a Protestant class of 14 to a Catholic kid on a secular campus of 40,000 — from a young woman who knew everyone to a young woman who, most days, knew no one.

I wasn’t ok with that. So I did what I sometimes still can’t believe:

I got uncomfortable.

And I did it on purpose.

I didn’t know yet that getting uncomfortable was good for a person who practices chastity. Here’s how I learned:

Resistant though I was to rubbing elbows with strangers, I saw no solution to isolation other than to turn the courtyard outside the University of South Florida’s Cooper Hall into my turf. I decided I did not require a stranger’s invitation to share a bench. I did not request a clique’s permission to be part of a party. I decided 40,000 potential friends were too slow at being the first to start conversations. So, I started them, which was uncomfortable, because I could not predict how they would end.

Sometimes, my disregard for my comfort zone did what I wanted it to do. Some of my best undergrad friends were the students whose picnic tables I picked instead of sitting alone at empty ones. Other times, my disregard for my comfort zone did what made disregarding it uncomfortable: it’s a sad day when somebody’s response to your “hello” is an eye-roll and a swift exit.

But it’s only a sad day until it isn’t, until you’ve done an uncomfortable thing enough that it doesn’t make you uncomfortable anymore — a killer skill for a person who practices chastity.

A person who practices chastity, the virtue that requires us to abstain from sex outside marriage, has to talk about it (often in public, on first dates, in a culture that thinks it’s weird). A person who practices chastity will probably be mocked, and will probably be rejected. A single person who practices chastity accepts that he or she might never have sex (ever, or again). A married person who practices chastity accepts that marriage doesn’t mean sex any time for any reason. A person who practices chastity saves sex or sex from now on for marriage, which means wedding night sex probably won’t be seamless.

Which means people who practice chastity are put in positions our culture calls uncomfortable. It means we have to make sacrifices where other people don’t think we should. It means we have to be disciplined where others might not have to be. Which is why chaste people should get uncomfortable, make sacrifices, and practice discipline in areas of life outside chastity.

My disregard for a comfort zone in the courtyard outside USF’s Cooper Hall wasn’t just valuable because it helped me make friends. It was valuable because I got better at disregarding comfort zones. Somebody’s decision to sacrifice trips to Starby’s isn’t just valuable because it saves him or her money. It’s valuable because it helps him or her get better at making sacrifices. Somebody’s decision to ditch the snooze button isn’t just valuable because it pushes him or her into starting each day earlier. It’s valuable because it helps him or her get better at being disciplined.

So let’s do it.

And let’s do it on purpose.

Thoughts On Being Alone

empty church

I sit today in a silent church, the only one in the pew.

The only one in the building.

I think about the time I was a bridesmaid, writing paper buzzed because of a drink but sobered by my status:

Single.

The only single person in the bridal party.

Totally unattached, no prospects.

I shook it off, because so what? I can dance alone. I can eat alone. I can be alone, and be ok. I can even be alone and like it. Because, you know, freedom and me-time and I’ll do what I want, and stuff.

But being alone and being ok with it isn’t a constant.

There are the ups, like flying solo (literally – I like to travel alone), and the time and space and energy to get to know God or your friends or yourself. But while you get a little bit louder now, while the DJ plays “Shout” at a wedding, you don’t really think about the downs.

You don’t really think about the frustration of always hearing from the people in whom you have no interest and hardly hearing again from the people in whom you do. About being so distracted by the desire for a significant other that you waste your time, space and energy dwelling on what you don’t have instead of enjoying or learning from what you do have. While you dance, you don’t really think about the “maybe I am supposed to be single” thought that otherwise looms a lot, or the realization that “maybe I haven’t yet used this time wisely.”

It is in these downs that we don’t think about the truth.

The truth is that while I sit in this silent church, the only one in the pew, the only one in the building, I’m ok with it. And I like it.

I like it because it reveals that I’m not actually alone.

That I – totally unattached and no prospects – am not alone.

I am not alone, because Jesus. I am not alone, because the Church. I am not alone, because every guy I meet is my brother and every girl I meet is my sister.

Because I wasn’t put on earth to find a person to love. I was put on earth to love every person I meet.

Because I meet people every day, and every time I forget it, God finds a way to remind me.

Emotions: A Human Thing, Not a Woman Thing

man upset

Last month, a fellow blogger asked me what I — as a woman — think it means to be a man. So in a comment on his blog, I wrote the following:

I could write a whole post (and perhaps I will after I finish my book!). But here’s what comes to mind at first: A man uses words to communicate. He does what he says he’s going to do. He understands emotion to be a human thing, not a woman thing, and expresses his own. If he was raised not to express emotion, he makes an effort as an adult to unlearn what he learned (even if with the help of a licensed therapist). He has integrity, which means he doesn’t do stuff (or makes a concerted effort to avoid doing stuff) in private that doesn’t align with his public image. He practices chastity and knows love is a choice as opposed to a feeling.

Another of the blogger’s readers left a comment regarding mine:

Actually, in this, you’re buying into the mindset that tries to turn men into hairy women. No one *teaches* men to “not express emotion” — it is a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal. Furthermore, no one, needs, nor even wants, “men” who wear their emotions on their sleeves, least of all women [sic]When it comes to emotions, the world was better off when women worked to emulate what comes naturally to men, by keeping a lid on theirs. Instead, most “women” thesa days mentally junior-high school girls [sic] … as are far too many so-called men.

These are my thoughts on that:

  • To my readers who are men: IGNORE HIM. You are not a hairy woman if you express emotion. You are a person who functions. A “masculine ideal” that doesn’t let you be who you are or feel what you feel is a crock of you know dang well what. Reject it.

 

  • No one needs men who wear emotions on their sleeves? Reminder: Jesus wept.

 

  • Words like the ones written by that reader are the reason an 11-year-old boy I once met is more likely to put his fist through a wall than to cry when he’s upset. By telling boys “crying is for wimps,” you don’t encourage strength. You set them up to be alarmed by feelings when feelings arise (and they will). You discourage the development of their abilities to manage emotion, because you can’t learn to manage what you aren’t allowed to experience.

 

  • Emotion is human. The moment you call expression of it weak, it becomes strong: evidence of a willingness to go against the grain — a grain manufactured by people like the guy who wrote the comment. (A willingness, which, for the record, is totally attractive.)

 

  • Women don’t want men who express emotion? First, men can’t tell women what women want. Stop it. Second, if I wind up with a guy who cries when he proposes or commits on an altar to intertwining his entire life with mine, or when our kids are born or our pets and loved ones die, or the Fresh Prince rerun we’re watching happens to be particularly heart wrenching, GOOD. I’ll cry with him.

 

  • The writer posits that men aren’t supposed to express emotion because not expressing emotion is “a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal.” It is good, regardless of gender, to be in control of yourself. And it is normal to have emotions. But it is flawed to imply it is a loss of self-control to express them.

 

  • Perhaps the people who have lost control of self are not the ones who express emotion, but the ones who don’t. Who is in control when what you will or won’t do is based on what other people think of you?

 

This post originally appeared on arleenspenceley.com.

The Biggest Announcement I Have Ever Made

arleen fall 2013

Since Feb. 28, 2013 — the last day of Pope Benedict’s papacy — I’ve been harboring a secret.

A secret I’m ready to share.

I sat that morning at the kitchen table, typing grateful Tweets to the pope and waiting to receive news that would make or break my day (and potentially change my life). In Notre Dame, Indiana, 1100 miles north of my house, the people gathered who would determine which kind of news I’d get. They discussed, deliberated, and decided, all from a room at a publishing house called Ave Maria Press.

After the meeting, an editor delivered the news to me like this:

“So,” he said. “How would you like to write a book for us?”

I said yes.

I said yes because they (the fabulous people at Ave Maria Press) said yes, too. They had gathered that day to review a book proposal I had written, and to decide whether they’d like me to write the book. Indeed they would, and indeed I am (and it’s been a work in progress ever since).

The book — about love, chastity, and sex — is slated for a Fall 2014 release (and I will reveal the title and cover when they’re ready). In the meantime, two things:

1. Thank you for your readership. I am more grateful than I adequately can express that you read what I write, respond to what I write, and inspire what I write by sharing or challenging my sentiments. More to come!

2. Your support while I write (and eventually launch) the book is so appreciated. Here are four ways you can help, if you’d like: First, pray for me, and for the project. Writing a book is officially the greatest feat I ever have attempted (one at which I will succeed by the grace of God, with the help of a wonderful editor). Second, participate in an upcoming series of surveys I will share (which might result in your being quoted in the book!). Third, invite me to discuss love, chastity, and sex with young adults or parents at your church, school, or other organization. Fourth, share my work with your friends (and let them know I’d love to connect at arleenspenceley.com, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Google+).

Hope you all are as pumped as I am. And now, I write.

Three Lessons and Two Tips From Audrey Assad

AudreyAssad-7242

3 Lessons and 2 Tips is a series of interviews on my blog in which some of my favorite people (and probably some of yours) share three lessons they’ve learned by being married, plus two tips for single people.

This edition – which originally appeared on my blog – features Audrey Assad, a Catholic and “independent singer, musician, and songwriter” who is soon to perform live in my neck of the woods. The show is at 6 p.m. November 2 at Northeast Presbyterian Church, 4400 Shore Acres Blvd NE, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Seats are limited to 150. Order tickets here.

Audrey “has a great passion for extolling the peculiarities and joys of the Sacrament (of marriage). She now makes music for the Church which that Sacrament so vividly illuminates.” I am grateful for the time she took to chat about what she’s learned by being married:

AS: How did you meet your husband?

AA: I met my husband William at a youth conference in Tucson, AZ. I was there singing background vocals with Matt Maher, and William (who was a friend of Matt’s) was working on production crew. We didn’t really “connect” romantically till a year later, though. We were married in February 2011 in Phoenix, AZ.

AS: What’s the first lesson you’ve learned by being married?

AA: Marriage is a path to holiness first and foremost. It is a way to encounter Christ, to follow Him, and to unite ourselves to Him.

AS: And the second lesson?

AA: No matter how prepared you are by counseling or reading books, every marriage is unique and special and has its own ups and downs. You’re married to a specific person with a specific history and a specific worldview. So it’s important to stay flexible!

AS: And the third lesson?

AA: A sense of humor is crucial to getting through those crappy days we all experience. It’s easy to take frustrations out on the person who is closest to you. It’s good to learn to laugh together when things are annoying.

AS: What’s one tip for readers who are single?

AA: Single life is just as much a path to holiness as marriage is, so don’t miss the occasions of sanctification while they’re still there! Enjoy it as much as you can, and seize the opportunities for holiness that exist in your current state in life.

AS: And a second tip for singles?

AA: If you’re called to marriage, you’ll be a better and more whole spouse if you till the ground of your heart during your single years.

– – – –

Connect with Audrey Assad: Click here to visit her website, here to follow her on Twitter, and here to like her on Facebook.

Click here to read all the posts in this series on my site.

Thoughts On Protestants and Catholics

ID-100156540I missed the quiet years for a minute today when I stumbled upon an abrasive tweet about the pope, written by an evangelical Christian.

The quiet years are the six I spent not texting, the two or three sans social media, the life before my smartphone (which I only have owned since December).

I missed the not knowing what people are saying, the freedom from unsolicited opinions that I implicitly solicit every time I press “follow.” This is because what people say sometimes reminds me of any and all of the times the misinformed mistreated me for being Catholic.

Of being in fourth grade and being told by a pastor’s wife that my church is of the devil.

Of being in fifth grade and being told by my teacher that it is harder for me to get to heaven, because I’m Catholic.

Of being in sixth grade and watching a Protestant pastor tell the student body at my Christian school that the Catholic Church is a cult.

Of being in seventh grade and having to tell my history teacher I don’t worship Mary.

Of being in tenth grade and handing my Church’s creed to my principal and demanding that he show me where it says I worship saints. Of suggesting, when he couldn’t find it, that he replace the history curriculum with one that doesn’t misinform his students. (And he did.)

Oh, the adrenaline. How I would shake.

It’s true, even now, even if the message arrives via tweet, that I don’t really want to be bothered. That eight years (5th grade through 12th) is a lot of years to debate. That I am nine years out of high school and still kind of tired. But hear this:

I would not trade it.

My parents invited me to transfer to public school, but I said no.

I liked my school. The experience.

Much of it made me who I am. It pushed and stretched me. I learned to let go, to forgive, and to coexist. Yes, I was at first the fifth grader whose ex-Catholic teacher told our class how bad it is to be Catholic. But I was also the fifth grader who sat on the couch with my Catholic mom and my Jewish dad and listened to Scott Hahn tapes. I was the fifth grader who sat in the pew and watched a priest baptize my dad, who watched her dad make his first communion.

When I read that tweet today, I shook. Just when I thought we could get along… “Another step back.” But I only missed the quiet years for a minute. I only missed them for a minute because I realized:

One person’s step back doesn’t haven’t to be mine.

That a person is misinformed or misunderstands doesn’t change the truth about my Church. The misinformed can mistreat me, and it doesn’t change the truth about me. Nobody but Christ can discern my faith as real or fake. I can choose dialogue over debate, love over hate, and to unplug for awhile if what surrounds me is abrasive.

I can invite anybody open to it, to let go, to forgive, to coexist.

To – like Pope Francis and his evangelical associates – sip drinks and pray and read the Bible together.

To disagree and love and like each other anyway.

To step forward, into something better and closer to whole.

– – – –

This post originally appeared on arleenspenceley.com.

Is Monogamy Unnatural?

marriageAccording to a column last month on CNN.com, to honor each other as man and wife for the rest of our lives is probably impossible.

“Strict sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration,” wrote Meghan Laslocky, the column’s writer and author of The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages.

According to Laslocky, humans have to tolerate the “impulse to experience sexual variety” for longer now than ever, because people are living longer now than before.

“A person is theoretically expected to have one sexual partner for about 50 years,” she wrote. “This seems like a lot to expect of any human being — even the most honorable, ethical and moral.” It’s a lot to expect, she said, because humans are animals and animals aren’t often monogamous.

“Face it,” the column’s headline reads. “Monogamy is unnatural.”

Then infidelity is “only human,” to use words the average American adult might use. But I have good news for Laslocky:

Infidelity is not “only human.” Fidelity is.

Humans are embodied spirits, created in God’s image, given enough daily grace to resist temptation. “Original sin,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “caused ‘a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted; it is wounded… and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence.”

Concupiscence is definitely in “the impulse to experience sexual variety.” It is what pulls a married man or woman toward sex with somebody other than his or her spouse. According to Theology of the Body (TOB), “It is as if the ‘man of concupiscence’ …had simply ceased… to remain above the world of living beings or ‘animalia.'” We have to learn, according to TOB, “‘to be the authentic master(s) of (our) own innermost impulses…'”

It is animal to act thoughtlessly on impulse, and human to use faith and reason to control it. It is animal to be unfaithful, and human to keep our vows.

This doesn’t mean we are animals because we sin. It doesn’t mean we are animals at all. It doesn’t make us less-than, but proves we are greater-than, that we don’t sin because we’re human but because for a moment, we forgot we are human. It means that because we are human, we aren’t bound by sin, but invited to be freed from it, that we don’t have to keep doing the things we sometimes think we can’t not do.

If we are the animals Laslocky says we are, it isn’t because of biology, but because we’re rejecting grace. And if “sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration,” it isn’t because we are animals, but because we believe we are.

– – – –

This post originally appeared on arleenspenceley.com.

Click here to read Laslocky’s column in full.

Relevant quote: “If redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given” (Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor).

Is Virginity at Marriage a Mistake?

 

newlywedsIn a column last month on Salon.com, Jessica Ciencin Henriquez – a fabulous writer, as far as I can tell – called her virginity at marriage a mistake. Wedding night sex was not what the church (nor the purity ring she wore) promised it would be.

Neither was her marriage.

Six months into it, Jessica wrote, “the idea of separating seemed more appealing than feigning headaches for the rest of my life.” She saved sex for marriage, “hoping it would ensure a successful marriage. Instead,” she wrote, “it led to my divorce.”

But did it?

I agree with what Jessica implies: the church camp where people preached premarital abstinence at her probably can be blamed in part for the sour start of what would be a short-term marriage.

But I disagree with what else she implies: That saving sex for marriage is a problem.

Excerpts of Jessica’s essay follow in italics, followed by my commentary:

But that ring! Silver and engraved with entwined hearts – everyone I knew was wearing one and I’d finally been given the opportunity to get my hands on it. And it wasn’t just the ring. This was a movement with T-shirts and hats and the added bonus of superiority over kids in school who couldn’t keep their clothes on, those sinners. 

This points to an important, unfortunate truth. Churches long have promoted premarital abstinence by talking about everything except for sex: the perils of unwed parenthood, the stigma associated with sexually transmitted infections, and how much “better” you are for not having sex than the kids who do. This is fear mongering, a lot of shame-based “why not,” and not a lot of genuine “why.” That is a problem.

The morning of my wedding day, I threw up. Everyone assumed that I was nervous about having sex. I wasn’t.

That everybody assumed Jessica barfed because she was anxious about having sex is indicative of a lie our culture tells us: that “the big moment” is what happens in bed on your wedding night, and not on the altar at your wedding. That is a problem.

When I look back on my wedding day, I remember a passionate kiss at the altar. But after rewatching video footage, I see it was little more than a peck on the corner of my mouth and a long hug. Two years of halting wandering hands as they grazed under blue jeans, and the second we have the permission from God, we hug. These are what red flags look like; my rearview mirror is lined with them.

When a church (or a school or a parent) says “wear this ring” and “sign this pledge” and then stops talking about relationships, girls and boys become women and men who basically only know not to have sex. Otherwise, their concepts of marriage and sex are shaped by their friends or media. That is a problem.

This was not lovemaking. There was no bond, no sanctity – this was not the amazing sex I was promised from the pulpit. This was disappointment three to four times a week.

To all people who preach “amazing sex” from pulpits: Please define amazing. The amazing part is not the sex. The amazing part is what’s implied by the fact that you saved it – your patience, your participation in the destruction of self absorption, your willingness to communicate outside (and eventually in) the bedroom. When you don’t define amazing, the assumption is “pleasurable sex will be intuitive and effortless, beginning with our wedding night” when, for most couples, that is so not true. That is a problem.

These problems plus premarital abstinence do not equal exemption from the consequences of these problems. They equal virgins at marriage who experience the consequences of these problems: not knowing the purpose of marriage or sex, more concern with preparedness for the wedding night than with preparedness for marriage, concepts of relationships and sex shaped by the media, and unrealistic expectations.

It is these consequences (among others, of course) that result in divorce, regardless of whether you’ve saved sex for marriage.

– – – –

A version of this post originally appeared on arleenspenceley.com.

Click here to read Jessica’s article in full.

Modesty Only Works When it Isn’t Distorted

miami beach 2012

If one thing stands out about a trip I took to South Beach back in May, it’s this:

I have never seen so much butt on a beach.

Our first day there, I stepped off the boardwalk behind the hotel and onto the sand, far too close for comfort to a woman who – while holding her toddler’s hand – rubbed sunblock onto a part of her body that is normally covered by clothes.

I go with my gut when I say “modest is hottest” isn’t Miami’s motto. (Oh how I wish it was.)

But even for we who are proponents of modesty, embracing it as it stands now could backfire on us. This is because modesty has been distorted.

Awhile ago, a study was conducted at Princeton, as paraphrased like this in a talk by the fabulous Jason Evert:

The test subjects were placed in a brain scanner and for a fraction of a second were shown photographs of women in bikinis, as well as men and women dressed modestly. When the young men viewed the scantily clad women, the part of their brain associated with tool use lit up. According to the study, men are likely to objectify women when women are scantily clad.

To accommodate for that unfortunate likelihood, the purpose of modesty has morphed into this: “Girls have to cover up so boys don’t objectify them.”

Which implies that the woman is responsible for the man’s actions, that the onus is on her to create conditions in which he won’t objectify her.

Which relieves a man of responsibility for his actions and requires of him exactly zero discipline.

Which implies men are weak. As if men can’t not objectify scantily clad women. As if human nature means men will objectify them.

But men don’t objectify women because they’re wired to do it. They objectify women because they’re humans who live in a culture that tells them to do it. And what is learned can be unlearned.

If we decide, however, that “it’s a woman’s job” to create conditions in which a man won’t objectify her (and therefore that “it’s her fault” when he does), men who learned it don’t have to unlearn it. And men who don’t unlearn it – even the ones who save sex for marriage – become husbands who will objectify their wives, because their wives inevitably will be scantily clad sometimes.

This is not to say I want the world to be one where women can be scantily clad under any circumstance (I don’t!). This is to say that if our solution for “men objectify scantily clad women” is “women stop dressing scantily,” we send the following message: A man’s objectification of a woman isn’t the problem. Her body is.

The damage done by an idea like that goes deep for both women and men.

And real modesty doesn’t do any damage.

Bodies aren’t bad. Bodies are good. We know this because we are physically attracted to each other. The attraction is designed to “orient” us toward the other. It produces a sensual reaction. A sensual reaction is a good thing, too.

But a sensual reaction is superficial when compared to other important elements of a relationship (like friendship). When fostered before the other important elements, a sensual reaction can distract a person from ever discovering whether the other important elements even exist.

The problem is “when only sensuality is stirred, we experience the body of the other person as a potential object of enjoyment. We reduce the person to their physical qualities – their good looks, their body – and view the person primarily in terms of the pleasure we can experience from those qualities,” wrote Edward Sri in Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love.

But, wrote Sri, we live “in a highly sexualized culture … (where) we are constantly bombarded by sexual images exploiting our sensuality, getting us to focus on the bodies of members of the opposite sex.”

Which is why real modesty is so important.

Modesty, when not distorted, doesn’t say girls have to cover up so boys don’t objectify them. It isn’t a burden on women and doesn’t imply men are weak. It requires us to pursue and be pursued for virtuous reasons. It enables us to be drawn to somebody for who he or she is (which is conducive to love), not for what his or her body does to us (which impedes love).

And in a culture mostly all right with superficial relationships and way-too-bare bodies on (and off) the beach, modesty provides a refreshing “arena in which something much more than a sensual reaction might take place.” (Sri)

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This post originally appeared on arleenspenceley.com.

I’m Not Saving Myself for Marriage

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I’m not saving myself for marriage.

First, I know no follower of Christ who thinks any of us can save ourselves. Secondly, to say “I’m saving myself” when you mean “I’m saving sex” equates who you are – and therefore your worth – with sex. But your worth is wrapped up in nothing except your existence. It is intrinsic.

So I’m not saving myself.

But I am saving sex.

I should add that the “save” in “saving sex” is not the same as the “save” in “saving the meatloaf for later.” Although I am waiting to have sex, when I say I’m saving sex, I don’t mean I’m “putting it off.” I mean I’m part of an insurrection (albeit it a tiny one) that is redeeming sex. Refusing, in other words, to treat it like it isn’t sacred.

This isn’t to say sex is not the gift of self. One spouse does give the gift of him or herself to the other, and vice versa, in sex. But I think among the ones of us who have decided to wait until we’re married to have sex, the gift we give in marriage is misunderstood when we think the gift we are giving is sex.

The gift is the partnership. The constant state of being there. The permanence. The merger of two lives and families into one. I could go on.

Sex is definitely part of it, but it isn’t it.

While saving sex may protect people, physically, emotionally and spiritually, in our hyper-focus on what saving sex does for me, an important truth has been neglected:

Saving sex protects sex.

Sex in our culture, generally speaking, is more about getting than giving. The world says part of it is important (pleasure), and while that part of it is important, I think all parts of it are important. But the world also says parts of it aren’t always necessary (i.e. unity beyond the biological, or fertility). And the world tends to tell us that we who wait are wrong because “everybody’s doing it.”

Because in our culture, “consensus determines rightness or wrongness.”*

But it’s like marriage. “Marriage is a sheet of paper” is parallel to “sex is not sacred.”

Marriage isn’t “just a sheet of paper” because a lot of people suck at it. Marriage is just a sheet of paper when you treat it like it’s just a sheet of paper.

Sex isn’t “not sacred” because most people in our culture don’t reserve it for the context of marriage. Sex is not sacred when you treat it like it’s not sacred.

This is why you could say the people who wait until they are married to have sex, and the people who would get married but never do, and the people who would like to have sex but are celibate because of what they believe about sex, and even the priests and nuns who keep their chastity vows have this in common:

They are all saving sex – redeeming it – by treating it like it’s sacred.

And it is.

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*From page 26 in Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue.