I’m working my way through Dawn Eden’s The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. And I did decide, after all, to read it on the subway. So far, so good. No nosy questions, or weird ones.
I think I’m going to take this chapter by chapter so I can discuss the book in depth. Though, honestly, most of the criticisms will be the same: while Dawn writes well, she’s starting from a terribly flawed premise, which is that every other woman in the world approaches dating and sex the same way she did when she was sleeping around and therefore there are a lot of women with husband-sized holes in them. Even when they have husbands — because Dawn knows, after all, that without God and chastity, those marriages are shams. How she knows this without ever having been married herself, let alone happy, is a question for the ages.
I probably wouldn’t be so irritated with Dawn and with this book if she had written it as her own story, rather than the story of Woman. Just because Dawn Eden realized that the way she conducted her sex and dating life — in particular, trying to use sex as a man-trap to get the relationship she says she wants — was not making her happy, it does not follow that other women, all other women who are having premarital/nonmarital sex or casual sex or what have you (lesbians don’t seem to be a factor in Dawn’s World) are unhappy. It also does not follow that because Dawn has found some measure of fulfillment or clarity via chastity that every other woman who is not chaste is deluding herself. Dawn may have found an answer for her own life (though it’s apparent from the book that she’s still struggling with it, and it hasn’t brought her any closer to being married than fucking drummers and hoping they’d fall in love with her did), but that doesn’t mean she’s solved everyone else’s problems. Or even that she’s identified anyone else’s problems but her own. And I have my doubts, reading this, that’s she’s even identified her own problems.
Oh, and there’s plenty of mythologizing about “sex a la New York City” and generous mention of Sex and the City. Which, really, needs to stop already. Carrie Bradshaw’s shoulders are too slender — and too fictional — to bear the weight of all the shame, blame and opprobrium heaped upon them. The show’s been off the air for years now and the statute of limitations for blaming the show for all the evils in the world is up. But more about that in a future installation, since Chapter 2 is titled “Sex and the Witty.” No, seriously. I fwowed up.
Onward, then: The Introduction.
Dawn starts off with the mythologizing of “sex a la New York City,” which wasn’t working for her. And how do we have sex here in Gomorrah on the Hudson? “[B]owing to urges and temptations, rushing into sex in the hope that love would develop, or using sex in the hope of landing a commitment.” She further describes dutifully following the Cosmo* rule or the Sex and the City [argh!]** rule, or the “Universal Single-Person Rule in our secular age: ‘Sex should push the relationship.’”
Red meat for the red-state pantysniffers, I suppose — what empty lives those fast city girls lead! Not like here. Yes, it’s very convenient for Dawn’s purposes to characterize her own neediness as “sex a la New York City.” We’re just a big bunch of soulless sluts here in NYC, hopping from bed to bed in a desperate effort to make someone, anyone, love us. Or so says Dawn, and she Speaks For Us All.
Here’s the thing: what Dawn describes is neither universal nor exclusive to New York City. What she’s describing is sex as a bargaining chip: I give you my body, you give me your love. I daresay that the girls who are going to purity balls are being taught that very idea out in the vaunted Heartland™ — and so are the boys being sent to integrity balls. Certainly, they’re being taught to view women as commodities whose value depreciates once they’re driven off the lot, so to speak. Sort of the other side of Dawn’s coin — sex is still being used as a bargaining chip, but it’s the withholding rather than the provision of sex that’s being used as a means to an end.
Nowhere in the Introduction does Dawn talk about what she herself got out of sex, just what she didn’t get out of sex. Namely, love and marriage:
I don’t have a potential boyfriend at the moment, but even so, I believe that right now I am closer than ever before to being not only married but happily married.
I’m sure that sounds outrageously optimistic, if not downright irrational, to someone who believes the only way to get married is to be sexually available. Yet, I can write with authority, because I’ve experienced nonmarital sex and I’ve experienced chastity, and I know what lies at the core of each.
But you haven’t gotten married either way, Dawn.
Again with the universalizing of her own shit: who is she addressing in that paragraph, this person who “believes the only way to get married is to be sexually available”? Sounds a lot like, “you remind me of a young me.” That’s not to say that there aren’t women who believe this and are looking for something different. There are. And that’s who Dawn should be addressing with this book, trying to convince them that chastity is the way to go. Problem is, she’s projecting her own neuroses onto all of single women.
Both experiences are centered on a kind of faith. One of them, sex before marriage, relies on faith that a man who has not shown faith in you — that is, not enough faith to commit himself to you for life — will come around through the persuasive force of your physical affection.
I’m gonna need to make a macro for those times when I want to point out Dawn’s projection. Because that’s certainly not how I use sex. Sometimes I want to have it just for the sake of scratching an itch. Sometimes I want to have it as part of a relationship. Sometimes I have it because I feel needy. But I don’t kid myself that it’s my skill in the sack that keeps a man around, when I have a mind to keep one around. No matter how good I am in bed, if a guy’s not into my sparkling personality, he’s not going to want to be with me out of bed.
And it may not have occurred to Dawn, but it works the other way, too — no matter how much the earth moves, if a guy is racist, angry, judgmental or a crashing bore, I won’t stick around. Because while sex is important to me, it’s not THE most important thing. Certainly not so important that I can overlook a mismatch in personality or general asswipery.
It forces you to follow a set of Darwinian social rules — dressing and acting a certain way to outperform other women competing for mates. A man who’s attracted to you will eventually learn who you really are — but by then, if all goes according to the rules, your hooks will be in too deep for him to escape.
Did she really follow these rules while she was sleeping around? She makes it sound like the pussy is a Venus flytrap. Certainly, she makes women who have sex before marriage sound like a bunch of succubi. Which I suppose is part of the religious thing.
The other experience, chastity, relies on faith that God, as you pursue a closer walk with Him, will lead you to a loving husband. Chastity opens up your world, enabling you to achieve your creative and spiritual potential without the pressure of having to play the dating game. Your husband will love you for yourself — your heart, mind, body and soul.
I’m a little unclear how you’re supposed to find a husband if you don’t do any dating. *** She makes it sound like finding a husband via chastity is a game of Blind Man’s Bluff, where God blindfolds you, spins you around and then guides you to your husband (who was behind the sofa all along!) without any effort on your part except for the being chaste thing. Though I think Dawn is using “dating” as some kind of dog-whistle term meaning “slutty slut slut” rather than, “meeting for coffee and seeing if we like each other.”
All that being said, I do agree that “dating,” however you define it, can be rather confusing, frustrating and inefficient if what you really want is to get married. There’s a lot of trial and error, and a lot of luck involved, and in my own personal experience, the worst part of the end of a relationship is knowing that I have to go back out there and start all over. I’ve gotten to the point over and over where I just don’t want to do it anymore, that I’ll happily be alone the rest of my life. And then I go and get a completely inconvenient crush on someone, which inevitably goes wrong or isn’t returned, and then I feel hurt and don’t want to do it anymore. And I’m not even looking for marriage.
But unlike Dawn, I don’t assume that what works or doesn’t work for me is going to work or not work for everyone else. And I’m certainly not going to judge someone for trying to make sense of her own life. I do want to be clear that I’m not mocking Dawn’s decision to become chaste — if it works for her and brings her some peace and clarity, more power to her. What I am mocking, however, is the flawed premise of her book — that single women who have nonmarital sex are empty, broken and deluded, and that it’s the sex that’s to blame — and the conclusions she draws from that flawed premise.
* A word about Cosmo: As irritating as Helen Gurley Brown became in her later years as it became apparent she was frozen in time, both Sex and the Single Girl in 1962 and Cosmopolitan after she took it over in 1966 played a big role in letting women know that there were other women out there at that time who were also having premarital sex. As we’ve seen recently, the rate of premarital sex has remained constant over many, many decades — 95%. What really changed during the sexual revolution was people’s attitudes towards premarital sex — suddenly, it wasn’t something to be ashamed of. The Kinsey Reports — which after all, simply described the sexual habits of Americans — created a huge stir in the late 40s and early 50s because it blew the lid off the shame and denial and made it plain that having sex was normal and natural and not something to be hidden.
**I hardly think that a show that first aired in 1998 can be cited as the source of a 37-year-old woman’s approach to sex in her 20s. Unless Dawn has a time machine we don’t know about. OOH! If she does, can we send her to the 50s, so she can live her fantasy?
***I used to work with a woman who was originally from India, and there was a lot of family interest in her getting married. When she was ready to get married, the entire family mobilized. It was fascinating from my perspective. But the thing is, she still had to go on dates to find a man she wanted to marry; the right man just didn’t fall out of the sky.