Over the past week or so, an article has been sweeping the web; it’s called “Waiting Till The Wedding Night—Getting Married The Right Way.” It was (surprise, surprise) brought to you by the ever fair and balanced Fox News. Readers started forwarding us the article, wanting to talk about the shaming of women happening all over it, along with the idea that if you didn’t wait til your wedding night for sex, that night (and your marriage) was somehow meaningless. The APW staff debated whether it was worth discussing, since where do you start? The idea that there is one right way to do marriage? The idea that a mainstream news organization thought it was ok to publish an article where a man called women “live-in harlots”? Then we forwarded the article to APW staffer Liz, who has written here before about her personal choice to abstain from sex until marriage, and writes here every Friday about wedding dilemmas and feminism. As Maddie put it, the article got Liz “a little worked up.” So here is Liz, explaining why this article gets it wrong, even if waiting until marriage is right for you.
I recently read this article on premarital abstinence. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s been going around the internet like wildfire. Articles like this are always of interest to me. Unfortunately, as usual, the pro-abstinence arguments are overstated and obtuse. But, unlike the stuff I usually find and read, this article was written by a douchebag.
My husband and I didn’t have sex before we married. No fooling around, no feeling up, no rounding the bases in any sort of way. It’s something I’ve mentioned on APW before, and I’ve even partially explained my rationale, but all of my many reasons can be boiled down into one idea. I chose to wait for sex because it was a way to protect myself from developing attachments to other people before my husband, while also saving something important to share with him alone. In those ways, I chose to wait because I thought it would help me love my husband better. The waiting in and of itself is inconsequential. But the motivation, the end result, these are the things that mattered. (And I say this realizing that the way those important-to-me things worked themselves into abstinence is very personal and unique to us. But isn’t that sort of the point?)
Saving sex til after I married wasn’t a one-time goal of “getting marriage right.” Though, it must be a really lovely idea to believe, because it sets such a nice, clear finish line. Make it til the wedding night without grabbing a boob? You get an A+ in marriage. I’m more than a little jealous of this guy because, in his mind, the hard work is done.
I’m not very jealous of his wife, though.
If the A is already earned, what else is there to do? I’d imagine nothing, like that high school senior who already accumulated all his credits and now just has study halls.
In my relationship, doing marriage the right way means setting my husband before myself in a healthy and loving way. It doesn’t go so far as to doormattishness and it’s certainly not one-sided. But it means that I need to knock it off in being so selfish all the time, which, let’s be honest, impacts a whole lot of what I do and say. Way more than just sex.
I imagine any other married folks here can attest that “doing marriage the right way” is a choice a person makes daily. Several times a day, in fact. And a lot of those times, I make the wrong choice. Many of them, I’m unloving and selfish to my partner. I pick fights that are better off left alone, I neglect my share of the chores and responsibilities, I roll eyes, I mutter sarcasms, I pick work over spending time together, I have sex for what’s in it for me rather than with the goal of showing him love, and I’m generally kind of a jerk.
Lucky thing for me (but unlucky for this dude’s poor wife) is that the job’s not over. I know I haven’t already passed or failed. Today, I made the mistake of being a selfish and unloving spouse. But, tomorrow, I can make a different choice.
Aside from all that, this guy does exactly what he accuses every other man of doing. By setting “to sex or not to sex” as a litmus test for a good marriage, sex is established as a competition. It’s a one-ups-manship. Breaths after he accuses guys of using sex to prove manhood, he brags about how his marriage is on the good side of this black and white, clear-cut definition of what makes a good marriage. It’s neither better nor worse but exactly the same. If you’re saying these guys who use sex to prove themselves are missing the point (which, yeah, they totally are), then you’re missing the point, too.
In the same way, he uses his wife as a prize and object. Check her out, fellas, she’s pure and virginal and all mine. He even uses the words “I win” in talking about her, if you really want to talk competition and objectifying. This is crass in the same way that it would be if he were sitting in a frat house, passing stories about the quality of her blow jobs. By making sex (or the lack thereof) the sum and substance of a great marriage, you make sex (or the lack thereof) the sum and substance of a great wife. You’re still boiling a woman down to her ladyparts and how she uses them.
The misogyny goes deeper from there, extending not just to his own wife, but to women everywhere. Classifying any and all women who have had sex before marriage as “floozies,” is problematic in a number of ways that I’m sure I need not explore here.
These interesting hypocrisies aside, the real point is that setting the wedding night as the standard for “getting marriage right” makes it a finish line instead of the starting point. And that’s what it really is. A wedding night, complete with virginal sex or not, is the start of the chance to love someone wholly, unconditionally, and selflessly. Keeping it in your pants until you’ve got a ring on it is all well and good, but that’s just the beginning.
Photo by APW sponsor Whitney Huynh Photography.