In certain areas of my life I've played the part of the odd one out. My parents raised my brothers and me without a television in the house. I was a Protestant in Catholic grade school, and then I was a Protestant at Notre Dame (Catholics make excellent educators, of both the mind and the heart). I was the only one of my girlfriends to get engaged soon after college and just about the only one who couldn't wait to get married and have children. And I'm a woman living in the age of the hook-up culture who waited to have sex until her wedding day.
That last part I've mostly kept to myself. It's been my own vow, something private and sacred and something I believe in, but I've realized that maybe mine is a voice that needs to be heard. Not because I want the world to know how I've lived my own life--I'm just barely comfortable sharing this much--but so that young women, and men, who are unhappy with the current trends in male-female relationships can read about a different kind of approach to sex.
As a woman who is a part of the generation in question, I've observed firsthand the heartache so often caused by hook-ups when they're a part of a relationship that involves zero commitment. And it saddens me that what we often hear or read on this subject is typically far from the reality of the situation. Most recently, I was shocked and bewildered by Hanna Rosin's article, Boys on the Side, in which she writes that the hook-up culture has been good for women--for their careers, their professional development, their education, their upward movement in the world.
What I'm more interested in is has it made the women of my generation happy? Are they finding love, are they treated with respect in their relationships, are they fulfilled? I only know what I have witnessed among my own peers but these questions and their answers concern me.
On the other hand, there is very little in mainstream culture in the way of encouragement for women, like me, who have decided to swim against the tide and do things differently. Not too much in the way of hope, or support, or reassurance is available, and I wish that would change. So I will write as frankly as I can about how my choice to save myself until marriage has affected my life and my happiness.
First of all, I want to emphasize that this has been wholly my own choice. I sense that there is a common perception that women who wait until marriage are somehow bowing down to an earlier era, to the patriarchy, or that they aren't thinking for themselves or giving themselves what they really want.
And I can tell you this couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, my parents, my upbringing, my faith, and my values have all played a part in my decision and in sticking with my decision, but it was always my own vow to myself, for myself. I believed that my virginity was something special and sacred, something unique that only I could give. And because of that, I reasoned, the only man deserving of this precious gift was my husband, the man who has vowed to love and respect me forever and who cherishes that part of me just as much as I do.
When your choice to wait is one you've made for yourself, it's one of the most empowering decisions you can ever commit to. Not in the sense that you are withholding yourself so you can lord it over your man, or so you can be manipulative--absolutely not. But it's empowering in the sense that you are in control of your own heart, your own femininity, your most intimate being. You have made a choice to protect yourself--which is not to say that you can never be vulnerable, but that you will only allow yourself to be fully vulnerable with the man you've picked to be with forever. The one who will not take advantage of your vulnerability but will take care of it alongside you.
Furthermore, waiting until marriage to have sex is a way of loving yourself, and respecting yourself. In making this choice you have essentially promised your body and your heart that you will not abuse them, you will not give them away to just anybody, and that you have enough esteem for them to hold them tight and keep them safe. And as Oscar Wilde put it, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”. If you love and respect your innermost self, opening your heart to loving another becomes a natural next step.
I can see how one might respond to this by asking, “Isn't loving yourself giving yourself what you want? By denying your physical needs, aren't you in fact denying yourself pleasure?” Well, in the short term, of course you are denying yourself pleasure. But if you view things in the long term, you will see that you are trading in momentary physical pleasure for lasting fulfillment (and lasting physical pleasure, too).
And this brings me to the issue of self-control. I will be the first one to admit that the choice to abstain until marriage is difficult. We are all sexual beings and it is natural to find yourself in love and wanting to give all of yourself to your boyfriend, or fiancé. But there is a dignity and a beauty in self-control that we have largely forgotten about. I recently read a wonderful new book called The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, which gives Jane Austen-era romantic advice to modern women struggling to find love. On the issue of self-control, author Elizabeth Kantor writes that it is “empowering” (there is that word again). “It's not about being a repressed woman who has no 'voice,' who doesn't know she can go all out for what she wants. Jane Austen heroines understand exactly what they want. But they know that grabbing doesn't get you love.” There is value in practicing self-control--it is a way to prevent the kind of heartbreak that comes from giving too much to someone who is undeserving, and it's a very good start on the way to discovering true love.
Finally, my choice to save myself for my husband has proven to be, far and away, the best thing I could ever have done for my relationship (counterintuitive, right?). My husband and I were married almost exactly 9 months ago and were together for 5 years previous to that. It has lent us a closeness that came from our choice to do a very difficult thing together and to live by our values, no matter what. It has made our relationship simpler and more about communication and emotional intimacy rather than physical intimacy, which has served us very well in our first year of marriage (which can be a strenuous adjustment period for newlyweds). And it has helped provide our relationship with a foundation based on respect and selfless love.
This choice that I made for myself when I was just a girl has certainly tested me, challenged me, and made me think over and over again about what my values are and why I believe what I do. But if I could do it over again, I would. Contrary to popular belief on the matter, my choice to wait for my husband has always made me feel more feminine and lovely, not less so; it has given me an inner peace and an esteem for my own worthiness as a woman; it has taught me the real beauty in self-control, as opposed to the fleeting beauty in passion; it has landed me in the loving arms of a man who makes me very, very happy; and it has enabled me to give him a gift I've given no one else.
For a guy perspective on this issue, make sure to read. Why NOT Having Sex Might Be Good For You by Steven Crowder.
Kate Harvey is a writer, classical pianist, and young wife who lives with her Army helicopter pilot husband in Southern Alabama, where they are currently stationed. She graduated in December 2009 from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in American Studies and Piano Performance. In May 2012, Kate received her Master of Music degree in Piano Performance from Purchase College. She is the co-author (along with her father and photographer brother) of a cookbook entitled Finger Lakes Feast, which is being published this November by McBooks Press. Kate recently began a writing blog called Something Ivory where she blogs about married life, food and cooking, modern womanhood, music, thrifting and antiques, and faith. She can be reached at email@example.com.