Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kiss the Girl!

TBM Topic 22: The Virgin Diaries on TLC

"Kiss the Girl!" by Julie Robison
"The Absolutely True Diary of a Virgin" by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
"Chastity Carnal-val" by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We're here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion on Facebook and Twitter!

There's a new reality series in town, and... well, it's no different than any of the others out there. It's extremely personal. It's humiliating. It focuses on the exterior of people rather than the interior. It makes everyone feels awkward. It portrays its subject matter poorly. It makes people and their belief target practice for everyone else, which does not lead to toleration and understanding of others.

The show is called "The Virgin Diaries." It is on TLC (which should change its name to TMI). A headline from ABC News says TLC is celebrating virgins because losing one's virginity is a big deal. The show is getting a lot of press, though, with the exploitation of a video clip of the couple whom had never kissed each other before their wedding. It was, to say the least, disturbing. If I had never kissed a person and I knew the cameras would be on me, I would certainly have been more timid.

To write this piece, I'll make the following three disclosures:
A) I couldn't bring myself to watch the show, so my critique is general motifs rather than serving as a review;
B) I think losing one's virginity is a big deal, and TLC has hurt rather than helped hold such a belief;
C) I'm an adult virgin.

That last one felt weird to type since I'm only 23. I hardly feel like an adult, minus the paying for self, school and taxes part of my life. My sex education came from being the oldest of six kids, religious ed. discussions about sex in the 5th and 6th grade, my biology courses in high school and college, and devouring Theology of the Body resources in college. I've had my heart broken, but never more than that.

For most, though, that's enough.

The romance people are looking for in their life is not sex. The companionship people are looking for is not sex. The intimacy people are looking for is not sex. These are, to be sure, all aspects of sex. But sex is an outward sign of something deeper, which is why girls are annoying and want to cuddle after: they want to be held and know they are wanted, and that their feelings are reciprocated. Sex is reassurance for men that they are wanted and needed, but that does not mean that are emotionally (and chemically!) bonded like the girl.

Virgins used to be more revered. In mythology, virgins goddesses like Athena held power because they did not need to sway men by luring them to bed, like most other women in the stories. The vestal virgins in Rome watched over the sacred fire and, freed from an obligation to marry and have children through their pledge of chastity, were considered important and needed members of society.

Beatrice catching Hero from fainting at her wedding.
In Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing, Hero, a female protagonist, is wrongly accused of unchaste behavior. As a result, her marriage is called off, and she dies. Not literally, as the audience finds out later, but her staged death makes her betrothed realize the severe consequences his false accusation (based on false information given to him by a seemingly trust-worthy person).

Even in these sophisticated modern times, sexually promiscuity stays shameful. It may be justified, it may be more acceptable, but it is still something people get a twinge when mentioning, even if flaunting it. People are quick to say, "Don't judge me!" and yes, no person should be judged by another person. But actions can and should be judged, because they determine a person's character.

A man who seeks sexual relations with a woman he does not intend to marry is not honoring or loving that woman. A woman who allows herself to be thus wooed by a man is not guarding her heart or her body. There are logical consequences to these nights of passion too, like a rise in abortions, single-parenthood, absent fathers, STDs and other health predicaments, and poverty.

B. et me
What people actually want is someone who loves them for who they are; to love, and to be loved in return. When B. and I were working through a marriage book, we had to talk a lot about our selves, our beliefs, our families, and what we want. It was a very emotionally exhausting exercise, but the fruit produced was worth it: to know that someone wholly loves me for exactly who I am, and to thus love him in the same way in return.

And when the time comes for us to be married and consummate our relationship, there will be nothing more wonderful than knowing we waited to share our bodies only with our future spouse. Perhaps we will both need a lot of help, perhaps we will both be awkward, perhaps we will make the usual rookie mistakes: no matter! We will learn together, we will laugh together, we will love together, and we will share in the experience together.

Melinda Selmys at Sexual Authenticity wrote an awesome post called "Just Sex" on how it isn't always going to be mind-blowing. But then again, neither is life:
There are two sides to the modern North American hysteria about sex. One is the side that we get to hear about all the time in the Catholic press: the hysteria about how sex is so great, so much fun, so liberating, so all-pervasively important to human life, etc. etc. That is, the hysteria that fueled the sexual revolution. 
The other side of the coin, however, is the Catholic over-sanctification of sex. A problem that I’ve encountered enough times to think that it’s probably a quiet, underground endemic within the Catholic community, is the problems of Catholics – especially Catholic women – feeling that sex is somehow wrong, dirty, or dehumanizing if it is anything less than the scintillatingly personalistic vision of fleshly union that appears in the writings of John Paul II and Christopher West. 
It’s just sex. If you don’t have it, it’s not the end of the world. If you do have it, and it’s rushed, mediocre, and half-asleep, it’s not the end of the world. A lot of the time, you end up with a situation where there is a strong biological imperative to make love on the part of one spouse, and a total lack of interest on the part of the other. This isn’t reductionistic and selfish, it’s just biology.
The Virgin Diaries misses the point about those who hold out: it's not that we don't want to have sex, it's that we don't want to have sex with someone we are not deeply in love with and committed to for life. All the smooth moves, fancy words and romantic settings in the world cannot make up for a lack of real connection with another person.

Sure, there are some people who may have missed their chance to have sex "that one time" in college. Then there are those crazy religious folks who apparently bring up being virgins on first dates (really, TLC?). But to be chaste by choice? Maybe even wearing chastity rings as a sign of their outward commitment to themselves and their body? Inconceivable! If you don't have sex in high school, this show says, you're going to get married a virgin and end up awkwardly sucking face in front of the entire congregation. And when I say awkward, I mean viral-on-the-internet awkward.

It doesn't have to be that way.

"Cortona Annunciation" by Fra Angelico
TLC, in an effort to celebrate chastity in an overly pre-marital sexualized culture, gave people another reason to laugh. This Christmas, we remember the birth of our Savior by the Virgin Mary, the most revered woman in Christendom. Hers was not an easy life: she conceived a child before she was married; she lived in total chastity with her husband; she bore a child while a virgin.

Who is laughing now?


  1. Brilliant. Thank you for reminding us again that the mindset of chastity is more than just trying to dodge a particular sin but is an intentional choice to value relationship and to treasure ourselves. Amen sister.

  2. Love it, Julie! There is something beautiful about building a life, a love, and a family with a man, something that makes it so worth saving yourself for. And certainly something that cannot be substituted with one-night stands and meaningless sex.

    Thank you for sharing about your own relationship! A true antidote for this over-sexualized culture!

  3. Constant vigilance! It's "GiottO" not "GiottA" but that is moot since the work is the Cortona Annunciation by Fra Angelico, not Giotto at all! But I still love you!

  4. Really beautiful post, Julie. I love that you write about how sex is a sign of something *deeper* -- that is so poorly understood by many people!

  5. "The romance people are looking for in their life is not sex. The companionship people are looking for is not sex. The intimacy people are looking for is not sex. These are, to be sure, all aspects of sex. But sex is an outward sign of something deeper, which is why girls are annoying and want to cuddle after: they want to be held and know they are wanted, and that their feelings are reciprocated. Sex is reassurance for men that they are wanted and needed, but that does not mean that are emotionally (and chemically!) bonded like the girl."

    Very good! Although as men do bond with their women, they grow to appreciate cuddling. But we do need the reminder that there are different biological imperatives going on. While men do need to take greater responsibility for their actions toward women, women's traditional role as "gatekeeper" is a great source of potential power that the current cultural ethos surrenders ... early and often.

    BTW, have you seen the Kenneth Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing? I think you'd really appreciate the fireworks between Branagh and Emma Thompson. And quite the star-studded cast: Denzel as Don Pedro, Keanu Reeves as Don John, Kate Beckinsale as Hero, Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio and Michael Keaton pulling out his comedic stops as Dogberry.

    Merry Christmas, Elizabeth! And give my regards to B!

  6. I love this, "The romance people are looking for in their life is not sex. The companionship people are looking for is not sex. The intimacy people are looking for is not sex. These are, to be sure, all aspects of sex. But sex is an outward sign of something deeper..."

    This is absolutely right Julie! Sex is an outward sign of this and sex can give some of this, creating a closer and more intimate bond between 2 people that are connected in a marriage relationship, but it is not this. Sex is meant to be an expression of the larger whole of a life lived in unity with another. It's representative of your whole life together with another person. If that life is not completely giving, sex is a lie. You speak with your body what you live with your life.

    I think people are looking for this intimacy and union. They are longing for it. That's because we're made to have it. We're made to give ourselves away in gift to another--to God and to another person. Sex gives you some of that in a real way. It bonds you to another person. That's what it's designed to do. But, without the solid base of relationship, it ends up causing damage to your emotional well being and to your soul.

  7. Great job! I especially like the bit about "over-sanctification" of sex, which goes along with the secular view that being bad at it is about the worst thing that can happen to an adult.

  8. I love Much Ado!! Great play!

    And TLC... has just gone waaaaay downhill. It's become a channel of "tolerance" of all, but really it just goes crazy and awkward and weird. I love your post though :)

  9. Excellent post. The quote from "Just Sex" is good too, and I think I see her point. We need not be overly crude and animalistic, but neither should we be overly spiritualistic. However, the first thought that came to me when I read that was that it is much like the Eucharist. Very often I receive the Eucharist without a mind-blowing emotional response. Actually, I almost never have such a response. I receive because I know what is occurring. The Lord Jesus is literally joining Himself to me, and me to Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity. This is occuring with every Holy Communion whether I feel it or not. Worthy reception of Communion is not a matter of emotionally feeling this reality, but of acting based on my knowledge of this reality.

    In a similar way, sexual intercourse is always the union of two in one flesh, even in prostitution according to St. Paul in 1 Cor 6:16. We will not always feel it. The feelings are not what determine the worthiness or validity of any particular sexual act (although I would say that a marriage without feelings ever would probably be problematic). The worthiness of reception of this sacrament comes from acting in accord with the truth, whether you feel it or not. So the personalistic norm holds fast, even, or I might say even especially, on the nights when you just don't feel it.

    This is not a critique of what she said. I understand her point, but this is where I went from there.