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May 23, 2005



As someone who, prior to his conversion did not have the opportunity to engage in pre-martial "unchastity", I rather resent those who did and now want to "repent" and tell the rest of us to "keep it zipped". Learning of her background, my instinct is to aggree with Rev. Storm that Ms. Winner is a hypocical opporunist. I'm sure that's 90% jelousy, though. I'm not sure which of them is right about chasity, though. I'm going to pray over it and read over it this summer. I must say that I hope that Rev. Storm is right.


I do like my scathing book reviews a bit more substantive, but I can see where Green is coming from. He makes pretty clear that his animosity comes from a sincere conviction that this kind of advice tends to lead to some very poor life choices (that he ends up cleaning up). If, say, a pyschiatrist was reviewing a book by some new-age guru about how "establishment medicine" wants to control and sedate you with drugs, and she's got patients who are the target audience whose lives tend to fall apart when they go off saratonin reuptake inhibitors, I wouldn't blame her for being testy about it.

Amanda Marcotte

Prescribing chastity across the board is very, very dangerous. It causes those for whom it's not the correct choice hate themselves and feel inadequate. Chastity is all-too-often another word for sex-negativity, as well. (Dawn Eden's blog is a good place to see that on full display.) Also, people who absorb the message that abstinence is virtuous and sexual activity sinful are unlikely to prepare for the sexual activity they do engage in (and they do), meaning they are at much higher risk for pregnancy and disease than someone who accepts sexuality as its own virtue and is honest with him/herself about their behavior and desires. If you want to be chaste, bully for you. But you're a rare one and I'm not going to pretend I think you're better than the rest of us.


And by Green, I mean Storm.

Amanda Marcotte

Also, I have to agree--I find it very selfish to run around having sex, getting good at it, having a brief, "chaste" courtship and then getting right back into the saddle and then petulantly telling everyone else they have to wait years for sexual satisfaction and then enter marriage with no skills to speak of. Call me a skeptic.

Caelius Spinator

Well, Hugo, while I agree that an unfortunate animus pervades the Rev. Ms. Storm's review of Real Sex, I think it stems from three issues:

1. Storm, from what I can tell, shares some important similarities with Winner.
Storm is about 30 and was educated at Yale Divinity School. She's smart. She writes fairly well. She knows a lot about medieval theology. So when Lauren Winner comes around, Storm thinks, "Wow, here's another young woman Episcopalian my age and with some other common ground, bearing some sort of witness that fits into my world view. If she came to a certain place, we could join together to provide something useful for the church as a whole." Then when Winner comes to a position alien to Storm's worldview, Storm is aggrieved and attacks her witness. The experience, from what I can tell from this entry, is familiar to you, Hugo. I wonder if Storm would do it in person. Winner is in New York occasionally from what I know.

2. Storm has written in Salon and in this piece about her own chastity out of the respect for the sanctity of her order. Storm, from what limited samples of her writing I've read, tends to present serious issues in a humorous way so she can face them more easily. Maybe, she's lonely...

and this brings us to

3. She reads Winner's advice as "marry or burn" or "marry for sex." Storm from pastoral and other sources of experience believes this to be very dangerous. Perhaps, she feels tempted to do this herself. (I really hate psychologizing, but I feel I must.) So she writes from a great reservoir of animus: the animus that X is very wrong about something and anyone who takes X's advice will be greatly injured. I think her criticism is valid if poorly developed.

I think both Storm and Winner could use a gander at something JI Packer wrote in 1997 (this is the only part I liked...Rev. Canon Harmon (Kendall) posted it a few days ago.


"The modem world sees adult singleness as a second-class way of living. Monastic and clerical celibacy were once advocated as a higher life because of Paul’s statement that the unmarried have fewer distractions in serving the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-5), but this idea has little credibility today. Paul’s other statement, that those who find in themselves a need to get married should do so (I Cor 7:8-9), is the word that weighs the most, and in our churches there are so many who want to get married, for companionship, for children, or for sexual relief, or, more often, for all three together. This is natural, doubly so among disciples who understand the exalted vocation of the Christian family as set out above; yet some will be disappointed and frustrated in their desire, for no suitable partner will appear. Reminding singles that some are called to lifelong celibacy (see Matt 19:12), and are in fact enabled to sustain it without sexual sin (see I Cor 7:1, 7-8) and to use their single condition for freer and fuller ministry, is part of the church’s task, while building friendships with the married that support them through the loneliness of their single life is something that all Christians should be ready to tackle."


I do see a group of people (who seem to get a disproportionate amount of airtime) who go from one extreme view to the opposite, rejecting everything they professed before (but using their former beliefs as a source of credibility) and never seem to develop a more nuanced view. I know that the conversion narrative is common in Christianity (indeed, a lot of the examples that come to mind involve adopting Christian or Christian-related views) it's difficult for me to respect someone who can't seem to find anything worthwhile in what they once so vehemently believed in.

Kristie Vosper

I gotta jump in here and agree with you Hugo. This struggle with our sexuality is one that affords our respect and time. It seems like there is a significant character attack being thwarted at Winner, rather unnecessarily. I think that her honesty and wavering is so true to any subject that is passionate marks our deep longing to be known in the most intimate way.
If we are so defensive, are we defending our own sin or our own fear that it will be named sin?

God calls us to share our story and experience. He says to tell of his marvelous works in our lives. Our communities should be full of stories of redemption and struggle and beauty and blot. It's life, and it's messy.

At the core of this issue is Jesus, calling us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. Now you can water that down, explain it away with grand theological ideas...but the call to holiness is one that leaves us sorting through the human condition...sorting through how we "do" holiness and how we don't do sin as much.

Animosity only breeds a certain disunity. An added comment, I have read Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath and I gained much insight. Especially her writings about Sabbath and of God's desire for us in that time. I think is wonderful that she use the "opporitunity" of her own experience and share it so candidly.

Finally, I find that those who must negate a person's words by calling them "young" are struggling with their own deficency and need something slap at the person they disagree with. I hate the "pat on the head you-haven't-seen-what-I've-seen" response. It's patronizing and unkind...and frankly it'd tick Jesus off.


But I also boil at the suggestion that advocating chastity is somehow dangerous!

Hugo, she didn't say advocating chastity was dangerous. She said that advocating chastity as a one-size-fits-all prescription is dangerous.

And while I agree that it's silly to dismiss the opinions of the young merely because they're young, it's also silly for one to say "Where I am now is where everyone should be," without looking back at one's own history of having made that statement over and over in regards to very different beliefs.


Mythago, you mean "Often in error, never in doubt" doesn't work for you? ;-)


My slogan: "probably in error, always in doubt."

Jeff's comment helps me better understand why I was initially inclined to let the ageism slide, even though it usually bugs the hell out of me. Moving--quickly and suddenly--from one firm conviction to its opposite isn't exactly a point in one's favor (see: Horowitz, David--never liked him as a leftist, either) and while Storm shouldn't have attacked her for her youth, this tendency she's exhibiting is perfectly fair game and is probably correlated (weakly, I'd imagine) with youth.


"He makes pretty clear that his animosity comes from a sincere conviction that this kind of advice tends to lead to some very poor life choices . . ."

That's a circular argument djw -- If chastity outside of marriage is the wrong decision then those who argue for it will do damage by encouraging chastity because it's bad to be chaste outside of marriage.

I'm stumped as to how advocating chastity leads to "poor life choices." If you believe chastity to be a good thing, advocating for it would be a good thing as well because, presumably, it would encourage others to live chastely, chaste, whatever.

See Amanda Marcotte's post directly below yours as . . . well, just flat out hooey re: the outcome of teaching chastity -- people will feel badly about themselves, about sexuality, etc. etc. There is no necessary link between teaching "God gave us sexuality -- a wonderful gift -- to be used in the context of marriage" and sex is a bad thing.

I suppose if you assume that all those who advocate for chastity have a low view of sex, are self-righteous in their approach and demeaning of those struggling with the issues, then you could conclude that the process of encouraging chastity leads to shame, guilt or sexual hang-ups of some sort. Does it happen sometimes, of course. Is it a necessary part of the message, No.

I read Dawn Eden's blog and couldn't find reference to how teaching chastity encourages bad view of self or sexuality. Regardless, it would be one voice and I could offer quite a few anecdotes of friends who "waited" and have rollicking good sex lives. In fact, of 12 friends with whom I have consistent contact, those who waited have much healthier sex-lives than those who did not. Granted, it's anecdote but, recent studies show highest sexual satisfaction among evangelical women. If teaching abstinence is as damaging as opponents suggest, you'd expect some real problems in these sorts of studies -- but you don't find them. What you find, in general, are people who see sexuality as a gift to be used, and used vigorously, in the context of marriage.



Mythago, you mean "Often in error, never in doubt" doesn't work for you? ;-)

Gosh no. It would crimp my professional style.

Granted, it's anecdote but, recent studies show highest sexual satisfaction among evangelical women.

I would sure like to see what studies find that evangelical Protestant women have more sexual satisfaction than women of any other faith (or lack thereof). As long as you're pulling up studies, you might look at peer-reviewed studies about abstinence-only education and how effective it isn't.

Whether shame and sex-negativity are a 'necessary' part of the message about chastity, they certainly seem to be a very, very common part of that message.


Actually, Stephen, people do feel bad and make wrong decisions do to pressure to behave in ways that are not right for them. I am glad, for instance, I have resisted the enormous pressure to have children, which was put on me due to a one-size-fits-all prescription, but not all who don't want children resist that pressure and the results are rarely what the people putting pressure would hope.


The study about evangelical women and satisfaction was a 1994 University of Chicago study; I'm trying to find a link to the study on line, but there doesn't seem to be one.


From the men of the world to the women,

Re: Shunning abstinence and having sex with us

We would like to thank you for your libertine attitude toward sex. We are more than happy to help you hone your "skills", as Amanda calls them. We like to help out our fellow man so you can practice on/with us so your future boyfriends or husbands won't be disappointed. They will be impressed by all the hours you put in to master your craft. They can thank us later over a beer.

We are glad you have finally started listening to us when we plead for sex, especially at a young age or early in the relationship. The sooner we find out if we're compatible, the better. We don't want to waste each other's time with that other relationship nonsense.

And since sex is all about fun, that's precisely the reason we're there. Any consequences are your deal.

Thanks again,



Hugo, I think you're right. The review is vicious.

Of course, for me the question is not "born again chastity" but "born again niceness." There was a lot in the previous version of UnSpace that was downright cruel and I'm ashamed of.

I can see where advocating chastity can cause problems. Two typical problems are people who marry just so they can have sex and people who don't plan protection because they want to delude themselves that they are chaste and that the sex is going to "just happen." I argued that it has to be a whole-personality education, not just a "just say no."

I'd also suggest some other things as well. How many people can be accused of being both Pauline and Clintonesque on the same topic?

Maybe it's just Dain Bramage from the marathon.


Congratulations, Rob, on finishing Cleveland!


I found this rather striking:

"Winner’s thesis—that it’s better to marry for sex than indulge in pre-marital hanky panky—certainly has biblical roots. As her hallowed predecessor, St. Paul, preached in Corinthians: 'If [unmarried Christians] cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.'"

"Paul, however, didn’t have a degree in couples counseling. Neither has Winner, but that doesn’t stop her from dispensing eagerly awaited wisdom to hot-blooded but uncertain young Christians."

Has it become de rigeur in Episcopalian circles to discredit/insult someome by lumping them together with St. Paul? (Who didn't even have a degree in couples counseling! The horror!)


I'm stumped as to how advocating chastity leads to "poor life choices."

Stephen, with all due respect, if you're actually stumped, you either didn't read the review or you're being deliberately obtuse. The argument goes like this--some people are taught to believe that pre-marital sex is a sin, and sinning is bad. Yet for some reason they still want to have sex. So they get married in order to do so.

I have no idea how common this is, and neither do you. The author of the review was speaking from his experience as a marriage counselor. Of course, I know that most anti-premarital sex people would advise cold showers and prayer rather than marriage for sex, but we're capable of deluding ourselves into ill-concieved relationships for all sorts of reasons, and this is one of them.

Emily H.

"a successful commitment to pre-marital chastity breaks few hearts"

I was going to say, "Whaaaaa?" and then I realized I was misreading you (I think?). But I'm still troubled by this, because it implies that it's a lot easier to keep your heart from getting broken if you don't have sex. And I don't think that's true in the least, honestly. I've seen at least three breakups (one mine) that were screamingly horrible, the kind of thing I'd rather be boiled in hot oil than experience again--and in none of these cases were the people involved having sex. It's plausible that the model of serial monogamy leads to more heartbreaks than the courtship model of previous centuries, because you get so attached to a person before there's a real commitment there, but I don't think that has anything to do with sex per se.

Tony Vila
Short-lived beliefs and lack of credentials can be excused as just part of being young. But that's why youth calls for some judicious withholding of opinion until one’s views are tested over time.

In full, this quote isn't bad at all. Storm is frustrated by how many evangelicals encourage chastity while not having lived it themselves (perhaps including yourself Hugo). If there excuse is going to be the foolishness of youth, then they simultaneously undercut their credibility in other ways.

Now whether the hypocrisy of chastity-apologists matters is a deeper question. If a utilitarian argument is strong for chastity, it doesn't matter who makes it. But if so many like Winner are going to use emotional narratives and claims of personal fulfillment to convince the public, then their "evidence" deserves that type of scrutiny.


Emily, that's a fair point. We sometimes forget that possessiveness, heartbreak, and despair do not require a sexual relationship. As someone who never practiced chastity, I've never known that kind of devastation outside of the context of what had been a physically intimate relationship. I

agree with your criticism, and am grateful for your pointing it out to me.


Well, Tony, remember that the same charges were thrown at Paul.  He argues (see 1 Timothy 1:16) that the greater one's past sin, the greater one's opportunity to demonstrate God's grace.

Tony Vila

Yes, and if Laura quoted St. Paul that'd be one type of defense. Her defense is to dismiss her own youthful judgement (or at least this is Storm's reading. Perhaps it is inaccurate. It is certainly accurate for some people. And saying his reading is different, from criticizing the logic of that counter-argument altogether.)

I just wanted to say that it seemed Storm's quote was being taken out of context. Liberals are clearly very tired of seeing hypocrites rail to people to have more self-control than they did.

(If this is about St. Paul though, that would be an interesting argument to be had here. Winner is married. She did not have much opportunity to actually display her pre-marital chastity. Paul values people who turn their back on sin - not necessarily people who no longer are capable of that sin, so can freely criticize it.)

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