One Answer to a Question About Chastity

Part of an ongoing discussion. A reader with the impressively Vikingish name of Rolf Andreassen who blogs at the even more impressively Vikingishly named provides an answer to some comments and questions of mine concerning the new standards (I use the word advisedly, if not ironically) concerning love, romance, and chastity.  The conversation also reaches to topics of loyalty and chivalry.

I have some questions I hope to ask Mr. Andraessen about his curious answer when time permits. But for now, I submit it without further comment here for your edification and reflection:

I am afraid I was not at my best on Monday, and did not write with my utmost clarity; I am still not entirely recovered from the cold that clogs my brain, but I will have another go anyway.

No, I did not say the attitude of a particular man would change, I said that if all women acting in concert treated the sex act as if it were a precious and important and sacred part of romance and lifelong love, those men not willing to treat the sex act as if it were a precious and important and sacred part of romance and lifelong love would have to seek elsewhere to slake their shallow lusts, or do without.

This is clearly true, yes. But it does not follow that it is a good thing.

Let us perform a thought experiment. We will assume as given that women desire, on average, far more romance, commitment, and affection in their relationships than men do; and conversely, that men desire far more sex. Now let us suppose that woman are very scarce, perhaps one for every ten men; and further that technology prevents the most powerful men from keeping them locked up in harems, as has occasionally happened in history. In this case, by the operation of supply and demand, courtship must necessarily go towards the feminine ideal. Conversely, if it is men who are in short supply, then they will be able to capitalise on their scarcity power and force courtship in their own direction, towards casual flings and little commitment. We can already see this happening at some college campuses: Where the (easily-accessible, same-age, same-class) female/male ratio is 60/40, the hookup/long-term ratio increases accordingly.

So far the free-market economics. But what if women formed a cartel or union, and demanded more commitment as the price of sex? Well, to some extent they do; it is not a good thing for a young woman to acquire the name of ’slut’. Still it’s true that the effect is less pronounced than it was some decades ago. I think this effect can be traced to the ease of contraception. When intercourse carried a large risk of being pregnant, a woman broke the cartel only at considerable risk to herself. This risk is not of course reduced to zero, but it has gone down by at least an order of magnitude; thus the cartel finds it much harder to enforce its rules – the methods of slut-shaming, gossip, and disapproval still exist, but they have gained no additional force over the years, and the old cost of pregnancy-risk is nearly gone.

I think, perhaps, we can agree on this economic analysis? But where we seem to part is the moral aspect. If the structure of relationships changes because the underlying costs and benefits change, well, what of it? Not in the stars or the mountains is it written that all must be as it was in the days of our fathers. But here you part company with me; you want women to reassert their cartel power, to reform the ranks of their union and crack the whip on men. I do not see why this should be desirable.

Mind you, I do not assert that today’s arrangements are the optimal ones. Massive, enormous changes such as those caused by easy contraception take a long time to settle out, even in a free market; and the sexual ‘market’ operates with a very long cultural and legal lag, and changes on a generational scale. I am almost certain we have not reached the eventual equilibrium, and fairly certain that the equilibrium will be some distance from here in the direction of commitments; the generation that grew up in the sixties overestimated how much the Pill had reduced the cost of sex, and consequently overshot in the direction of male preference. But in any case I do not see a strong moral aspect to this, just the workings-out of individual preferences given costs, benefits, and power.

I am sorry if the metaphor of a mercantile exchange is misleading, because we are not dealing with a woman selling herself to a buyer, we are dealing with a woman giving herself to the utmost depth of her being to a true a faithful lover, giving everything she has of her self, something she does not share with any other man. A lover who is not a virgin does not have that to give: she can disport herself in the love-play with her current paramour, for so long as it amuses her, but she cannot give (to use a mercantile metaphor again) an exclusive contract to him.

Well, all right, this is true. You can only give your virginity once, unless of course you’re in an Islamic country and hymen restorations are a routine surgery. And presumably women who only sleep with one man in their whole lives are rarer than those who don’t, so they have scarcity value if nothing else. But I have got to say that to hold this up as the ideal strikes me more as a male sex-fantasy than as female empowerment. A man might certainly want to receive the entirety of a woman’s sexuality as a gift, but why would a woman want to give it? I am reminded of that class of BDSM fantasy where a woman asks to be whipped to prove her devotion. Naturally the male will gladly accept such a gift, but it seems undesirable to hold it up as the ideal.

Are you asking whether a brother-in-arms whose loyalty is lukewarm or temporary or conditional should be treated with the same love and respect as a loyal one, whose loyalty is like white fire, is lifelong, is unconditional, as one who is willing to lay down his life for his brother?

It appears to me that you have rather an unrealistic view of feudal arrangements, which were commercial contracts. The point I was (too-subtly, perhaps) attempting to make was that feudal systems are a bad analogy for marriage.

If you give the same amount of love and loyalty to a fair-weather friend or a holiday lover or a lukewarm brother-in-arms that you give to a true, faithful, devout and trusty wife, brother or friend, then your love and your loyalty are false-to-facts.

Valuing the valuable and the less-valuable as if they were of equal value is a paradox.

I agree with you that a marriage is of greater value than a one-year relationship, and implies greater respect for one’s partner. I do not, however, agree that being someone’s only sexual partner through their lifetime has additional value. This imposes a cost on the partner, a high cost. If I care about them, I ought not to want to impose such a cost.

I note that this of “increasing the value” need not stop at lifetime exclusive sex. For example, one might decide to demonstrate one’s commitment by chopping off the left thumb. This is even more exclusive than being a virgin at marriage! Even a virgin can later commit adultery, but there is only one left thumb on a human body. So a woman who did this should be even more highly valued than one who was a virgin on her wedding night. But I think you would not consider this a good arrangement. And I note that I am not making this up, indeed cutting off a thumb is rather mild compared to some forms of female circumcision practiced on girls who are more-or-less willing and of an age to make decisions – puberty or so. Would you agree that their husbands must value them even more, since they made such a sacrifice to become adults who could marry? You should; but would you also argue that this makes their sacrifice a good thing?

It seems to me that there must exist some optimal level of commitment, some best-possible tradeoff between value and cost. (Incidentally, I had not verbalised my understanding before now, and thus have learned something from our discussion; thank you.) But I do not see why that optimal level should happen to lie at the virginity-at-marriage level which developed in response to economic circumstances which simply do not exist anymore.