Monday, June 16, 2008

Karma Sutra gonna get you

In moving to the DC area, Dawn Eden winds up getting closer to the action - in a manner of speaking. The action is represented by a column by Ms. Ally Pregulman in The Hatchet, the student newspaper of George Washington University. Be warned, this is tough reading for anyone who has a daughter or younger sister, but it needs to be read.

(Aside - nice touch not calling it the Daily Hoya or something. The name shows more imagination than much of the content.)

Ms. Eden quotes a few standout items and asks for a kindly rebuttal...

At the outset, let's get the dull business of "prudery" out of the way. This is not going to be a post full of naive disbelief that college students are actually (gasp) having ess-eee-exx with each other. In fact, I find that the naivete is usually from the kids towards the oldsters. Whenever one tries to talk sex with the younger generation, they assume "you don't know how things are nowadays," and forget a few facts. For one, we oldsters (or not so oldsters) were once youngsters ourselves - we remember our own days of frolic. In fact, we are many of us not quite removed from those days. (Where do you kids think you came from, anyway? Didn't we have that talk?) In fact, it is usually teens who are horrified that their parents are actually (gasp) having ess-eee-exx with each other. So much for prudery.

What's more, the young-uns don't draw the obvious conclusion - we were there, and now we're here. They'll age, too. Their bright vanguard of the hip and knowing will be inexorably overtaken by the ranks of the square and staid. As such, the advice that we have now is borne of the experiences we had then; those experiences are not nearly so foreign or unrealistic as their own. This isn't mere hypothesis that fails in the face of reality, but reality itself distilled into workable theory. It's they, not us, who are flying in the dark when they disregard what their elders have learned the hard way.

As such, when Ms. Pregulman starts her column by saying that "Mom and Dad's move-in day advice won't be anything like this," we can agree. For the sake of young adults everywhere, we certainly hope their parents' advice is different. What's offered here is, in short, a disaster - ironically offered up as the fruits of experience. In fact, one commenter at the Dawn Patrol calls it "harm mitigation," and that sums it up perfectly. Does anyone think it's wisdom to talk about mitigating harms that are simple to avoid? It's as if we decided to teach kids how to bounce off cars rather than teaching them how to look both ways and not to play in the street. What's more, Ms. Pregulman has utterly nil to say about mitigating the harms that following her advice will probably cause.

There will be fisking later, but first let's have some actual advice. Rather than mitigating one's risks when it comes to sex, it's simpler to avoid them. Chastity is not only perfectly acceptable, it is by far the most reasonable and charitable way for anyone to live.

To start, chastity isn't merely "abstinence ├╝ber alles." Just as honesty is a positive value beyond "don't tell lies" and temperence is a positive value beyond "don't overindulge," chastity is a positive value beyond merely not hooking up. It is, in short, integrity in one's sexual being.

We see integrity as very important in other areas of life. We need to be honest with others; with ourselves moreso, if we hope to understand what we desire out of life. We then need to be prudent, to understand what will and won't advance our goals. We need to be charitable, so that our pursuits won't harm others. We need to be brave so we won't turn back when opposed. We need to have understanding, so we can learn from life and know best how to apply those lessons. And we need willpower - both to chose, and then to persist. One simply goes further in life when all of one is moving in the same direction.

Damage to our integrity in those areas shows pretty quickly in the bottom line, so to speak: we don't get where our hopes would take us. We wind up being unhappy, and making others unhappy. It's usually obvious when the problem is telling lies, or failing to stick to our studies, or an overfondness for double-chocolate extra-thick chocolate chunk sundaes (with chocolate sauce). But when it comes to chastity, these simple truths have been pretty well obscured by a lot of talk about being well-adjusted, having control over our own bodies, and enjoying a great gift freely. As a result, if we fail to be chaste we not only wind up with the same troubles as other failures in integrity, we often don't know why we're unhappy. We're smart, work hard, tell the truth, care for others, and know where we want to be, so what's up?

For one thing, we have an integrity problem we don't recognize. For another, chastity involves not only sexual integrity, but a lot of the other areas of integrity as well. A deficit here starts draining the other areas of integrity as well - we start to lie to ourselves about our real problem, we become sidetracked trying to avoid something we need to practice, or else we become less sure that we need it.

We do need it. We don't often believe that utter fulfillment is to be found in lies, or in exquisite foods, or in ruthlessly trampling others. We can fall for it for the moment but it's hard to found a bedrock philosophy on such things. Those who show the least care for themselves in these areas are usually quite quick to cry foul when it's done to them; which shows that whatever they may say, integrity is important to them - at least, in other people. ("Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.") We do, however, fall quite often for lies about sex, as described above.

There's a good reason for that: the things we're told about being well-adjusted, having control over our own bodies, and enjoying a great gift freely are all true. The lie is that we gain all of that by indulgence in sex, whenever and wherever. But five minutes' thought should show us the reality: when it comes to sex, it is the chaste who are well-adjusted, controlling our own bodies, and enjoying the gift freely. Well-adjusted, in that their sexual nature is in accord with the rest of themselves, and not at odds; in control, in that the will chooses rather than blind moods; and freely enjoyed as I hope to explain below.

Setting aside for the moment all of the complications of disease and pregnancy, there's the question of emotional and spiritual involvement in sex. True sex demands integrity, not just in abstention but also in practice. It's meant to connect us in the body, but also in mind and spirit through the body. Sex whenever with whomever invariably runs in to a contradiction - because the mind and the spirit have to be divided to be thus completely given to more than one other person. This is not integrity with others - not in honesty, not in charity, and certainly not in sexuality. It's also not integrity with oneself, because one has to divide oneself into little boxes in order to keep the damage from spreading into the other areas of one's character: sex in this box, and all of things that sex was meant to connect in other boxes. One is no longer having sex to the full - it may be pleasurable but it is not possible to describe it as free enjoyment, because one is by definition not free to let one's full self flow into the union.

Nor is one capable of accepting all that flows in the other direction. How could one accept the full trust and vulnerability of the other in a sexual union and then betray them later? There are two answers: either one can't, in which case one must refuse to receive what is given; or else one can, in which case one is rather a total bastard - treacherous and untrustworthy, ruinous to self and others.

It takes a lot of integrity to be oneself instead of what other people expect. It takes discipline and self-command to take the direction that will do good for you and others, rather than the easy way. There's a saying that any log can simply float downstream; all the strength and willpower comes from heading the other way, first to choose that path and then to travel it. That holds true in virtue as well, and virtue about sex is no exception.

So a chaste person also gets a good amount of training in things like courage and prudence and honesty. The show respect for themselves and others, no less than they do by being honest or brave or thoughtful. They also gain in knowledge, because if anyone wants to their limits, they are best served by testing their strength against something that pushes back. Sex pushes on us from every angle - and most strongly from within. The outer pressures for sex would be far fewer, and weaker, if it were not so. Ads use the language of sex as a selling point because it speaks to us in a way we readily understand, for example. Simply indulging whenever we feel the urge can teach us little about ourselves. In fact, it simply means that sex (being strong) will push us anywhere the urge goes. We lose our power to choose when we simply go along. It's easier to laugh when the bully kicks the class bookworm; or to go along with a group lie when somebody starts to ask hard questions. We don't normally think much of ourselves when we do those things. Chastity should be no exception in our mind, since it is no exception in reality.

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