More than half a century has passed since the beginning of the sexual revolution, which was characterized by a period of suspension of conventional boundaries, in order to experience a deeper sexual freedom. Fifty years of experimentation, however, do not seem to have been enough to dispel the persisting suffering and confusion present in romantic relationships.
The liberalization of moral values has the most surprising consequences. One of them is the decline in demand for the sexual services market. Fewer and fewer women are practicing prostitution (in the US, at least), in part because the labour market has been liberalized and opened up significantly to women, who have other lucrative career options in addition to the “oldest profession.” Interestingly, the demand on the sex trade market is declining mainly because people have liberalized their morality and more and more are practicing “free sex.”
Analysts at The Economist say that “a century ago, when sexual mores were stricter, prostitution was more common and better paid. Men’s demand for commercial sex was higher, because the non-commercial sort was harder to obtain.”
Today, however, highly industrialized societies (especially the American one) are going through what some sociologists have called the hook-up culture. The things men today enjoy in relationships are what yesterday’s men could only dream of, writes Psychology Today, in a paper that examines the effects of the “hook-up” culture on men. They are already getting what they want, effortlessly, according to PT.
Women are openly participating in this culture, in the name of expanding personal freedom and self-confidence, says Hanna Rosin, columnist for The Atlantic. However, for these ideals, Christianity Today points out, women have begun to imitate the “traditional” model of typical male sexual promiscuity.
An absolute of chastity
In parallel with this continuous hook-up culture, a countercultural movement has risen, which promotes strict sexual abstinence of unmarried people. Also called the “purity movement,” the phenomenon surprises by its persistence despite the hostility of the environment.
The purity culture was initiated by the conservative branch of evangelical Christians in the United States and used many methods of promotion. The pro-abstinence programs presented in churches and schools are just two of them.
However, one of the most well-known and controversial methods is the Purity Ball, a symbolic event that takes place every year. Young ladies accompanied by their fathers participate every year to make or renew their public commitment to remain virgins until marriage. Dressed in prom dresses, the young women take part in various ceremonies designed to make them feel beautiful, loved, and protected and to associate these positive feelings with the desire for chastity.
Being an event with religious significance, the Purity Ball also includes a moment of dedication, in which fathers promise to protect the purity of their daughters.
The purity movement has been successfully imported to countries where evangelical missionaries have found interest for their message. In Venezuela, for example, more than 4,000 participants at a Christian festival pledged to maintain sexual purity until marriage.
Both the hook-up culture and the purity movement have different effects and reactions than the ones they initially intended. The hook-up culture is one of liberation—from social constraints, complexes, and primitive phobias. Nevertheless, despite these claims, it does not seem to be able to go beyond the definition of a debauchery that anaemically copies the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1980s.
“I think there’s a big change in the way we view casual sex. In the 60s it wasn’t just casual—it was frantic,” says Shirley Zussman, a sex counsellor with more than 50 years of experience. At the age of 100, Dr. Zussman was able to observe the effects of major changes in the thinking about sexual intercourse (legalization of contraceptives in the 1960s, the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, and the invasion of online pornography in the 2000s). Zussman appreciates that the “great hook-up” of the moment is not as exciting without the context of a sexual revolution.
In an interview with Time magazine, the therapist hinted that sex outside of lasting relationships fails today, as it did during the sexual revolution, to meet individuals’ need for intimacy and acceptance. The disadvantage of the hook-up culture, compared to the sex liberalization movement of the ’60s and ’70s, is a marked superficiality of relationships and a paradoxical lack of social connection in a context in which electronic devices that promise just this very thing are so frequently used today.
The purity movement is offered as an alternative to this culture, but it also degenerates into effects opposite to those it initially proposes. Ball critics, for example, say that such rituals lead young women to believe that their will is less significant in the chastity equation than their fathers’ protection. They say that this ideology is a revival of patriarchy, in which the man is the full owner, including that of a woman’s sexuality, at any age. And, they warn that this attitude, in the long run, will degenerate into a pathological dependence on spouses.
It is true that an American study conducted by the Christian University of Texas claims that the father figure is decisive for the daughter’s morality, emphasizing that a childhood marked by the absence of the father can lead to the development of risky sexual behaviour among girls. Nevertheless, there is a significant difference between being completely absent and exercising an overprotection that limits the development of young women’s willpower.
Clash of cultures
If these complex effects occur regardless of how the two cultures interact, different sparks fly when they collide.
The Purity Ball is dedicated exclusively to a female audience, which seems to confirm critics’ warnings who condemn the activation of a double standard of chastity. However, supporters of the purity movement also accuse their opponents of double standards. Dannah Gresh, an American author who advocates for a purity culture, said in a TED presentation at the University of Pennsylvania that today’s society mocks those who choose to abstain, while declaratively defending freedom of conscience and promoting tolerance.
“Some of the messages we’re hearing about sex are myths that promote the lie that those who are waiting to have sex until the time is right are going to end up having bad sex. Virginity is medically, emotionally and spiritually the best choice, but physically it’s also the best choice,” says Gresh in an interview with Christian Post.
Psychologists seem to be right. A team of researchers at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life in Utah have concluded that premarital sexual abstinence increases the quality of sex after marriage. People who waited until their wedding night to start their sexual life were 20% more satisfied with their relationship than couples who did not practice abstinence before marriage. A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2013 found that relationship stability in abstinent couples was 22% higher than in other couples. The same couples say that they enjoy better communication and a higher quality of sex (reflected in a 12% and 15% difference, respectively, in favour of abstainers).
However, before reaching successes like the ones reported, young Christians must first win a few battles specific to the environment in which they were educated. The insistent emphasis on purity has led to the spread of paralyzing uncertainty among young Christians concerned with maintaining chastity as they begin their search for a life partner. Although they are taught that choosing a partner is a decision that can be guided by Bible principles, young people find that this congruence with the Bible is difficult to put into practice. Those who do manage to keep their promise have another battle to fight. Due to communication that truncates their sex education idolizing virginity, some develop intimacy problems after marriage.
What about those who break their promise? In the second part of this article, we will try to find some answers to this particular question.
Alina Kartman majored in Communications and Public Relations, but opted for a career in journalism. Having published more than 1,500 pieces of writing over her 13 years of media activity, Alina has senior editorial experience. She is part of the team who advanced semneletimpului.ro, the platform for the Signs of the Times magazine in Romania. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Programs and Investment Management.