First Things – What Is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?

Wedding RingsIn a recent post at First Things, Abigail Rine, an assistant professor of English at George Fox University, writes about her experience trying to teach “What is Marriage” [pdf]. Her Evangelical students not only didn’t like the conclusion, but had difficulty even understanding the authors’ argument. Yet Rine does not place the blame primarily on them, but on their pastors and parents:

While I listened to my students lambast the article, it struck me that, on one level, they were right: marriage isn’t in danger of being redefined; the redefinition began decades ago, in the wake of the sexual revolution. Once the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination, marriage morphed into an exclusive romantic bond that has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction. It is this redefinition, arguably, that has given rise to the same-sex marriage movement, rather than the other way around, and as the broader culture has shifted on this issue, so have many young evangelicals.

From time to time, my friend Justin Lee—founder of the Gay Christian Network—and I give joint presentations about how Christians can disagree charitably and civilly about homosexuality. Justin and I both grew up Southern Baptist, and we have a lot in common. We also disagree, and have disagreed for nearly two decades now, about whether same-sex sexual activity is ever compatible with God’s will.

Sometimes, someone who has seen our presentation will ask me why I think Justin “changed his theology” to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology. This is a fairly natural question, and since Justin and I have been friends for so long, I would be as likely to have insight into that as anyone.

However, I think the question actually rests on a substantial misunderstanding. I did not hold onto the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage. When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with.

Justin has to explain away a few verses that deal with homosexuality. But his efforts to explain away do not surprise me. I grew up among pastors who didn’t even bother to explain away the New Testament teaching on divorce as they cheerfully blessed second, third, and even fourth marriages (and yes, I had the misfortune of attending Rev. Ken Hutcherson’s church for a time). However, the connection between marriage and procreation—which is the most important basis for distinguishing between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages—was rejected if not mocked by Evangelicals who regarded the Catholic teaching on contraception entirely backward.

In the most obvious sense, Justin is more faithful to his Evangelical upbringing than I am. I hold a traditional view on same-sex marriage because I rejected the theology of marriage I grew up with, and came to embrace the theology of marriage that used to be defended by Protestants and is still (at least officially) defended by the Catholic Church. That theology has, however, largely disappeared from the daily practice of American Christians, Catholic or Protestant.

Rine writes:

As I consider my own upbringing and the various “sex talks” I encountered in evangelical church settings over the past twenty years, I realize that the view of marital sex presented there was primarily revisionist. While the ideal of raising a family is ever-present in evangelical culture, discussions about sex itself focused almost exclusively on purity, as well as the intense spiritual bond that sexual intimacy brings to a married couple. Pregnancy was mentioned only in passing and often in negative terms, paraded alongside sexually transmitted diseases as a possible punishment for those who succumb to temptation. But for those who wait, ah! Pleasures abound!

There was little attempt to cultivate an attitude toward sexuality that celebrates its full telos: the bonding of the couple and the incarnation of new life. And there was certainly no discussion of a married couple learning to be responsive to their fertility, even as a guiding principle. To the contrary, the narrative implied that once the “waiting” was over, self-discipline would no longer be necessary. Marriage would be a lifelong pleasure romp. Sex was routinely praised as God’s gift to married couples—a “gift” largely due to its orgasmic, unitive properties, rather than its intrinsic capacity to create life.

The conjugal understanding of marriage, as articulated by Girgis et al, depends upon a view of sex that, in my experience, is not predominant in evangelicalism. Take Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage as a recent, if extreme, example. With its celebration of anal sex and breast augmentation as marital sex aids, Real Marriage is emblematic of how deeply the ideals of the sexual revolution have permeated our culture, even to its evangelical corners.

To my students, the authors of “What is Marriage?” are making a troubling move, reducing the purpose of marital sex to its reproductive function. What they seemed less able to recognize is that they have inherited the inverse: a view of sex with little meaningful connection to procreation. And once such a view of sexuality is embraced, there is not much foothold, aside from appeals to biblical authority, to support the conjugal understanding of marriage.

Read the whole article at First Things.

67 thoughts on “First Things – What Is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?

  1. While I agree that the common modern evangelical although to sex is problematic, I struggle with the idea that the historic procreation-focused approach is the solution.

    In some ways, the procreation approach does make certain questions more clear cut. If sex has to involve procreation to be good, then that does it make it easy to objectively condemn gay sex, bestiality, etc. It would also answer more difficult questions like contraception, masturbation, and non-vaginal sex.

    But there are still other questions it leaves unresolved for me. Why is it okay for infertile couples to have sex? Why is “natural family planning” okay? Why are nocturnal emissions okay?

    My current view is that sexual intimacy is intended to be used within an exclusive, lifelong union between a man and a woman. All sexual relations (whether committed in the body or in the mind through lust) outside this context are sinful. Within marriage, sexual relations solidify the bond, whereas in other contexts they distort the beauty of agape love. According this principle I just described, nocturnal emissions, non-lustful masturbation, sex between infertile couples, and contraception need not be condemned as they do not violate God’s design.

    • Nocturnal emissions are involuntary so it’s unclear why they’d need to be morally considered at all. The traditional Catholic prayers before bed at Compline explicitly include a reference to be free of “pollution” (ie, a nocturnal emission) so while not considered sinful per se, they were/are considered something like a malfunction of the body and the accompanying dreams a potential temptation or spiritual disturbance that is not something to be desired.

      As for the rest, the question “why are the infertile allowed? Why are infertile days allowed?” betrays a utilitarian or consequentialist moral framework in the background of the analysis of people who think of themselves as pretty conservative or traditional.

      My short go-to answer for people is “do you see a difference between counting cards and outright cheating?”

      Most people do. Sure, the casino (whose concerns are pragmatic and thus consequentialist) will kick you out either way if they get wind of it…but ethically and legally, counting cards is not cheating because all you’re doing is taking advantage of publicly available information to make a strategic choice about timing. There can be no moral obligation to remain ignorant, nor to somehow “forget” a pattern you’ve noticed, nor act “as if” you had no knowledge (which is meaningless and impossible to determine).

      I think people also don’t understand the difference between a choice to exclude and a choice to include something. The Catholic teaching about the connection to procreation most definitely does not say: “there is a positive obligation to actively INclude procreation in every sex act, to actively ensure it takes place.” The teaching is “just don’t actively EXclude it.” If infertility is already there not caused by the moral agents, sex during it is not considered a choice against fertility because they’re not performing any action to exclude it, they’re doing everything they can in terms of the act being natural, and so any infertility is morally accidental, a result of circumstances, not a result of the choice.

      The Catholic Encyclopedia explains something similar about gluttony: “It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony. Such a temper of soul is equivalently the direct and positive shutting out of that reference to our last end which must be found, at least implicitly, in all our actions. At the same time it must be noted that there is no obligation to formerly and explicitly have before one’s mind a motive which will immediately relate our actions to God. It is enough that such an intention should be implied in the apprehension of the thing as lawful with a consequent virtual submission to Almighty God.”

      The obligation is not to explicitly always be intending procreation, it’s that the sexual pleasure should never be chosen in a manner that actually, “structurally,” frustrates procreation. Only this destroys the intelligibility of the choice. The ultimate “why” explaining the action. You can count cards, but you can’t cheat.

      Catholic thought sees an inherent dissonance in contraception, for example. Why do people want to have sex (let’s even say, in this case, as opposed to masturbation). Some people might answer because it feels good or is exciting, but these merely push the question back a step. The real answer is because it’s intimate. The greater excitement or intensity that comes from sexual interaction with another actual person is psychologically predicated on intimacy, on the fact that this is not something we do with just anyone, that there is a big taboo around contact with these parts (even around nudity) in most of our day to day interactions, and this taboo creates a tension that marks actually doing that with someone as special, as an exotic state of consciousness compared to the rules and boundaries of everyday life, as therefore especially intimate.

      But why? Why is THAT so intimate? Why does all this psychological tension cordon off genital interaction as so special as opposed to, say, sticking you finger in someone’s ear (which might be seen as a weird violation of personal space, but nothing like rape)? Well it’s pretty obviously because of procreation. The genital faculties are powerful and dangerous because of their capacity to create new life, playing with them is like playing with strong acids and bases. The excitement is predicated on an intimacy. And those parts are the private and intimate ones because of what they can do re: procreation.

      Therefore, Catholic morality sees a huge internal contradiction in contraception. To choose the “intimacy” of genitally arousing interaction, but then to actively exclude the reason why that specific interaction should be considered particularly intimate in the first place…winds up destroying the Reason of the act and its transcendent “chain of Why” back to God. The action is no longer intelligible, because if the very logic of the choice excludes the reason that the motive of the act even makes sense…then it is being chosen out of pure subjectivism or compulsion, like a sort of drug. In the very structure of the choice there is no longer a reason that sort of interaction should be considered intimate or exciting at all…except that it fools the senses with an approximation of the externals (but with the essential core explaining “why are *those* externals associated with intimacy/excitement?” gutted out). It’s finding the Good or desirable in the accidents and not the substance.

      Drugs like heroin “directly” activate a pleasure pathway in the brain. This is wrong and unvirtuous, because those pathways exist to give pleasure at the occurrence of certain objectively good acts in the external world. To activate them “directly” in the brain, in the subjective sphere, with no reference to the sort of intelligible objective goods they are supposed to be connected to…is to slip into self-enclosed solipsism. “The pleasure pathway is activated either way, why should the means matter?” is to already concede this subjectivism.

  2. Well said, Ron. I’ve spent my whole life in evangelicalism, and never heard any view of marriage espoused except for the “sex romp” view to which Rine refers. For that reason, I suspect that we’re just a decade away from the point where evangelicals will widely embrace same-sex marriage…just as we have come to widely embrace remarriage after divorce, and remarriage after a second divorce, and remarriage after a third divorce, and so on.

  3. The other great shift in our understanding about the purpose of family life (which compliments the shift from a procreative theology of marriage to the now commonplace soul-mate model) has been the downplaying of the concept of “legitimate” children. In the West we now tend to classify children as either biological (thanks to DNA testing) or adopted – with a great deal of concern shown not to treat adopted/fostered children as “less than”.

    In the past one of the main purposes of marriage was to produce legitimate children. Only the laws of succession in European monarchies now uphold this idea. It’s a good thing that Prince William didn’t get a girlfriend pregnant before marrying Kate as the British public would not have tolerated any legal exclusion from the throne of a “bastard” child.

    Southern Baptist head honcho Russell D. Moore recently tweeted how much he dislikes the term “illegitimate child” (presumably because his two sons are adopted) but in doing so he is unintentionally supporting the only option that same-sex couples have when starting a family. With “illegitimacy” as a distant folk-memory gay men can pick a surrogate or adopt a child without hearing any dissenting voices about the “validity” of their choices. They will be married to one they love and everyone will know that their children are loved equally (no matter how they were conceived) – so it’s a win-win situation for gays and their virtuous lack of prejudices!

    • “In the past one of the main purposes of marriage was to produce legitimate children. Only the laws of succession in European monarchies now uphold this idea. It’s a good thing that Prince William didn’t get a girlfriend pregnant before marrying Kate as the British public would not have tolerated any legal exclusion from the throne of a “bastard” child.”

      This is all true. In the past, women were chattel to be traded by their fathers in exchange for what was called a dowry. We still, in the US, have a similar system where, traditionally, the dad of the female member of the marriage pays for the wedding. Children were also property, essentially. A means of a man securing a legacy, if he could win a uterus to grow miniature versions of himself in. Adultery was punished by fines for men and death for women (in the same way that if I bite someone in the park I go to jail and maybe a mental hospital but if my dachshund bites someone in the park he gets put down – animals/women have no rights because they aren’t human, in the eyes of tradition).

      The problem with your side is this “lack of prejudices” is seen as a good thing and you will have a very hard time turning back the clock to the Law of Hammurabi now. I personally find the idea of surrogates unsettling but would, if I get well established and meet the right guy, adopt a kid to give them a better life or work with the Big Brothers program in the future.

      • I’m not against adoption. I’m just pointing out that all of the anti-patriarchal (and well intentioned) changes that have been implemented so far have lead us to a situation where gay couples can now say, and sound persuasive when the say it, that everyone has a right to define ‘family’ any which way they like. The definition is secondary to this appeal to individual rights.

        I don’t think gay people had much to do with this social revolution. They are a tiny minority who were universally reviled until fairly recently. They have simply benefited from the freedoms that the 98% straight majority pursued for themselves.

    • “I don’t think gay people had much to do with this social revolution. They are a tiny minority who were universally reviled until fairly recently. They have simply benefited from the freedoms that the 98% straight majority pursued for themselves.”

      You hit the nail right on the head again. Homosexuals are simply the latest salvo in a battle to redefine the culture itself that began with the earliest feminists. We (gays) stand on the shoulders of women who came before us. Without attacking the concept of gender itself, we could never have appreciated the success we have, socially. Will this mean good or bad things for the future though? I believe good, but some would say bad. Only time will tell.

      I personally hate the old way. I hated it when my dad died and my mother found herself berated for being a single mother not by her own choosing. I hated it when the desperation drove her to marry an abusive guys who harmed my sister and myself. Before I found feminism in my mid twenties, I had no focus for this disenfranchisement I felt. Thanks to them, I do now. My homosexuality has only galvanized it.

      I am convinced many of our problems will go away once the system has been removed. Family under the tyranny of tradition was always exploitation. Perhaps we can rewrite these rules and make it something good.

  4. Last fall I was attending an evangelical church. The Pastor made a statement in which he said he was thankful for having a wife because of his struggle with lust as a young man and his marriage was a satisfying outlet for that. Egads, that was not a very appealing advertisement for marriage for me! I agree that the sexual revolution has warped our view of what it means to express our sexuality. It is a mess. But that still leaves us with the question of romantic attraction. The desire which leads us to want to bond with someone intimately and often we go down the road of linking those feelings with sexual union. What is the role of romantic love in our interactions and bonding with people.

    So although I disagree with Justin Lee’s conclusions on marriage he makes some good points that we have neglected to talk about romantic love and those kind of emotional feelings which are specific to human connection and thriving. What is the meaning of how we are wired emotionally? And how does God wish us to express our feelings? Are we to repent of every emotion thinking it is lust rather than accepting and appreciating a healthy attraction to someone? What is the proper channeling of human desire? Is it always about repentance or is it about pouring out our lives in service or work, sacrifice and giving? What about the simple enjoyment of being in the presence of beautiful souls? If marriage is not specifically for that purpose then we have lost the art of romance and honor in all of our relationships because everyone is suspicious about sex and sin and the dos and don’ts of proper behaviour and living arrangements.

      • Good point. I key difficulty in these discussions is our inability to separate various forms on non-sexual interpersonal attraction from sexual attraction.

      • Would you be able to elaborate on what you mean by social construction Daniel? Is this a Biblical concept or a secular one? I am wondering these days if everything is socially constructed except for God and who Jesus is. Just throwing that out there.

      • I understand a social construct to be an idea that we as humans create in order to make sense of our experiences. In other words, it’s an interpretation of realty rather than reality itself.

        Romance itself is actually somewhat hard to define. According to Oxford, it’s a “feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.” In our culture, it is strongly associated with sex and marriage but this had not been the case in all cultures, especially where marriage are arranged. If romance is simply a “feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love,” I don’t think there could be anything wrong with prior of the same gender sharing such feelings. The distinction between platonic feelings and romantic feelings seems rather arbitrary to me, and that’s why I just view it as a social construct.

    • “Last fall I was attending an evangelical church. The Pastor made a statement in which he said he was thankful for having a wife because of his struggle with lust as a young man and his marriage was a satisfying outlet for that. Egads, that was not a very appealing advertisement for marriage for me!”

      Growing up in the Bible belt (Southern Baptist country, Oklahoma) I heard this reasoning a lot from High School peers. Male peers. The whole “I can’t wait to get married so I can have sex” trope is old and belies a rot beneath the surface of traditional sexual ethic. On some level, these men believe that women exist as objects for them to possess and use as they see fit in the confines of marriage. Classically, that is what women were before feminism came along in the late 1800s and through the 1900s. Sounds like this pastor was voicing the same mentality, disgustingly enough.

      “Thank God I have this toy that can fabricate miniature versions of me and let’s me use it when I feel sexually frustrated!”

  5. Kathy,

    I think it’s difficult to know where all of this is headed. For most evangelicals, any kind of intimate relationships are reducible to sex. In my PCA upbringing, I was consistently taught that all desire for interpersonal intimacy outside of the nuclear family is reducible to a desire for sex.

    I went to McDonald’s this morning to get breakfast. I stood in line behind two 16-year-old guys. As they waited in line, they were showing a certain amount of interpersonal intimacy toward each other. This was coupled with some amount of non-sexual physical contact. It was clear that there was a reasonably strong emotional bond between the two. Then, one of their high-school soccer coaches entered the store. The two guys immediately stepped away from each other, and dropped all outward signs of their emotional bond. By their demeanor, it was clear that they had come to believe that their emotional fondness for each other was culturally problematic.

    Oddly enough, we live in a culture where an emotionally intimate non-sexual friendship between two men is no less scandalous than same-sex marriage. Around the age of 16, we guys are expected to start distancing ourselves emotionally from our guy friends and focusing on dating women (with an eye toward marriage and kids).

    I did much the same thing. Growing up, I had a close friend with whom I had a very close emotional bond. When we were about 16, we started fighting a lot, and over things that were relatively petty. The friendship eventually disintegrated without either of us ever knowing why. Looking back, it was clear that we both loved each other, although in a fairly innocent and platonic way. But as adolescence set in, we both implicitly understood that there was no cultural narrative into which we could fit our friendship. Not knowing how to scale back our friendship to a culturally acceptable nonchalance, we simply walked away. By our senior year of high school, we barely spoke to each other. In the waning weeks of our senior year, we watched “Stand by Me” in our AP English class. When the movie ended and the lights were turned on, we made eye contact with each other across the room. Both of our eyes were red from crying. That movie perfectly expressed the loss that we had both come to feel.

    Part of the difficulty in addressing homosexuality lies with our culture’s tendency to reject the legitimacy of emotionally meaningful relationships between men after the age of 16. For men who have a strong desire for wife and kids, they simply try to meet their desires for friendship in that relationship. And, when it fails to provide, they divorce and remarry. But for those of us who never saw ourselves as the marrying kind, our society’s condemnation of same-sex friendship becomes problematic. I certainly don’t think that homosexuality can be explained entirely in terms of misdirected friendship (i.e., same-sex friendship forced into the only socially legitimate way of relating emotionally to members of the same sex). But I think it probably goes a long way toward explaining why many of us perceive ourselves to be gay, even though we feel no persistent desire to have sex with members of the same sex.

    • I love what you wrote here Evan773. Very insightful. I can relate to your story. How many times has that scenario played out and we lose a friend?

      • It happens to me less now because I have a better appreciation of the phenomenon at play. But as a high-school kid growing up in the middle of the AIDS crisis, I had no idea what to make of my emotional desires for my friend. He felt much the same way. I was deeply depressed for nearly a year. I found out recently that my friend attempted suicide during the same time period.

        If we were to fast-forward 20 years, I suspect that many would suggest that we were gay and that we should pair up and live happily ever after. I’m not sure that that’s right either. After all, our bond was more of an emotional bond than anything else.

    • To this end, Evan, I think you should thank the huge advances of the Gay Rights Movement, because it – more than any other social force – is the reason that young guys today do not often have the same restrictions on their affection that we did, because it has become highlighted and normal for guys to love on each other. My husband and I teach at a boarding school, and we routinely see our guys (14-18yo) in all sorts of affectionate positions that honestly make my stomach churn…b/c I still associate that with social taboo. But they don’t. We saw the same sorts of behaviors in a day school. It honestly never ceases to amaze me.

      That’s not to say that the old narrative doesn’t persisit. It certainly does in many contexts…perhaps it came into play w/ your McDonald’s incident – though I would be hesitant to ascribe such a meaning to the situation…there could be any number of reasons the coach’s presecence caused them to bristle. But it is changing, slowly but surely.

      Implicit in the way you speak about this, though, is this theory that if same-sex closeness were more socially acceptable, it would somehow lead to less homosexuality. There is, unfortunately, nothing in history or science that would lead us to believe such a thing (e.g., look at the Arab world where same-sex affection and closeness are the norm, but there is no lack of gay Arabs – or look at our own culture where girl-girl closeness is the, norm, yet lesbianism persists).

      Perhaps the reason you perceive yourself as gay is simply because you are? Or perhaps you are asexual, but homoromantic or homoemotional? It could be many things, I suppose, but the least likely on my list of culprits is “misdirected friendship.” But who can say, really?

      • I liked your comment DJ.

        I think that, actually, it’s sort of a wash.

        Normalizing homosexuality makes “non-sexual” (whatever that means) male-male affection more acceptable. But there is a fear that this might also lead to a *spread* of homosexuality because, heck, if the boundaries are loosened or made “closer to the line”…the line might well be crossed more often, at least in “experimentation” etc.

        On the other hand, normalizing male-male affection might lead to less homosexual subjectivity because people’s needs from the start are being met in “regular” friendship and so the tension never reaches the level of an exclusive and escalated fixation on same-sex intimacy.

        So…it could be that, yeah, homosexuality will stay at the same levels…but something like: it will be different people doing it, and for different reasons.

        I think it could work like a trade-off: there will be less homosexuality based on subjects who perceive their needs or identity as fundamentally “different” from what the strict category-boundaries imply and so interpret that as “I must be gay, I must be a different strictly defined category”…and more homosexuality based on a sort of ambiguity or looseness of boundaries. We’ll see less “gay and straight” and more bisexuality, more “experimentation.”

        Do you see the “wash” I’m talking about? The possibility of less homosexuality from feeling like one is left outside the high walls of normativity…but more homosexuality from the walls being lower and thus more psychological energy “escaping” over them “by accident.”

        As for Arabs and all that, I will say a few things:

        1) I think it’s naive to see ANY culture in the world today as really a “separate culture”…we’re all part of a single World System, and different places or groups just play different parts in the same structure. Gay Arabs could therefore well still be a manifestation of some of the same social forces that are at work in the West, albeit in a different way, according to the mode of their culture’s specific role in the world system.

        2) It’s unclear that “exclusive gayness” makes as much sense in other cultures. Yes, there is definitely homosexuality, but it’s unclear that it is always constructed the same way or psychologically structured the same way. Homosexuality in other cultures might much more often take place in subjects we might (by our standards) be more inclined to call Bisexual. The Ancient Greeks had their youth-lovers, but also had their wives. I wouldn’t take homosexual expression as proof that someone in another culture is “gay,” as the gay construct might not even be how their conceptualize and construct homosexuality.

        3) For something like the Arabs particularly, I would theorize something like this: Yes, they have more male-male intimacy…but their “walls” against homosexuality are correspondingly all that much higher! Thus, their situation is not really equivalent to the modern Western situation where the walls of taboo are being expanded outward WITHOUT any corresponding added pressure against the wider sphere of acceptable intimacy “slipping into” homosexuality. So it does not surprise me there are gay Arabs. Or rather I’d say this: I bet there are fewer, but I also bet the ones that *are*…are correspondingly REALLY gay. So the “total volume of homosexuality” floating around in society isn’t necessarily less; what is lost in numbers would be made up for by increased intensity. Because they will be by definition the ones who weren’t encompassed even by the wider circle of intimacy, and they will feel under an even greater tension that, say, American gays…because the walls from which they are excluded are that much higher. The walls of taboo become more intense the closer they are built to the line. But the higher or more intense the walls, the more “Other” those outside them are going to feel, and they will constitute their subjecthood and desires according to the intensity of that otherness.

      • DJ,

        I have some doubts about the merits of the term “homosexuality.” Its use, along with the term “heterosexuality,” seem to suggest that there are just two available social scripts for relating to other people: the straight one and the gay one. I see this as something of a false dichotomy, as it fails to account for the reasons why people may reject heteronormative scripts for themselves.

        I’m demisexual, meaning that I have no primary sexual attraction to people of either sex, but may occasionally develop a weak sexual attraction in response to a strong emotional connection. Even then, that attraction is more fleeting than persistent. Still, I’m emotionally attracted almost exclusively to other guys. I tend to adopt the “queer” label. But it’s taken some time for me to piece this together. For a number of years, I just figured that I was gay in the same way that others are gay. So, I suspect that there are others who are in the same boat, i.e., others who don’t have a primary sexual attraction to either sex, but who have certain secondary sexual attractions to the same sex. After all, it’s hard to know what the absence of something feels like (e.g., absence of a primary sex drive) until you interact with others and realize that they desire sex in a much stronger and more persistent manner than you do.

      • mradeknal,

        I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s a wash – or that it needs to be. The Arab example is a perfect case for why this need not be the case (as you already adequately stated). But this whole conversation kind of reeks of ex-gay musings (“*Sigh* if only I’d had more male affection, I wouldn’t be such a filthy gay today.”) It’s somewhat shortsighted. Our culture’s lack of male-male affection didn’t create homosexuality – probably not even a little, teeny, tiny bit. Again, if it had, we wouldn’t have so many darn lesbians (who don’t have the same cultural proscriptions of same sex affection).

        As for your other points:

        1) There are some cultures in the world that have little/no contact w/ the rest of the world. They are, in fact, great cases to study w/ respect to sexuality, and in almost all of them, homosexuality is a bit of a thing to some large or small extent. But I’m no sociologist or anthropologist, so I won’t expound on that further, b/c it’s way outside my expertise.

        2) I think exclusive gayness absolutely makes sense in other cultures. They may conceptualize it and practice it differently, but I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a culture where there is no such thing as someone’s orientation being directed exclusively toward the same sex, and that this was an enduring characteristic of that individual. The Greek example is actually a case in my favor. Yes, there was a sort of “cultural homosexuality” among the aristocracy that was acceptable – and most people who practiced it were married to people of the opposite sex. But there was also a social stigma associated with men who continued to be in the receptive role once reaching manhood…and why have a social stigma attached to a behavior that never manifests? Moreover, there are several examples of adult male same-sex cultures in ancient Greece – men who never married.

        3) There’s no evidence that there are fewer gay people in the Arabic world, and there’s certainly plenty of evidence that the gay people in the Arabic world are just about as varied as the gay people in the Western world (especially in terms of “intensity”).

        In short, from everything we DO know about sexuality scientifically (from biology, to neuroscience, to psychology)…we know that it is a condition of the brain. It is not chosen, and it knows no culture per se. That’s precisely why we see a wide range of sexual behavior in the animal world (several hundred species)…from exclusively gay to exclusively hetero, and everything in between. It’s not just a cultural construct (though culture plays a role in how it manifests, is conceptualized, etc.)…it is fundamentally a biological construct, which is why it is pervasive in nature.

      • Evan,

        I don’t see any reason to ascribe a dichotomy to a set of terms simply for the sake of those terms. Your problem w/ “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” is like having a problem with “black” and “white” – as if all of nature had to conform to one of those 2 colors. That’s not a problem of the terms black and white, that’s a problem of limited thinking and limited understanding. So too w/ homo and hetero. These things ARE things in the world – they are ways of being. But they do not have to be limiting. Lisa Diamond is doing great work in describing the “sexual fluidity” (or to put it another way, the varying sexualities) of men and women. But this goes back at least to Kinsey, who from the start of his venture conceptualized sexuality on a continuum, which I think is appropriate. That being said, there really IS such a thing as people who are exclusivey homo and people who are exclusively hetero.

        And by all accounts, it seems that the reason you reject the “heteronormative script” is because it is one that does not fit your experience (that is, you are not heterosexual). But that shouldn’t create problems for the term heterosexuality, nor the script…or else how would you know you weren’t that if the script didn’t exist? How would you come to understand yourself without that script? Same to w/ the homo script?

        It sounds like what you’re really saying is that we need to have a broader conversation about the plethora of scripts that describe human sexuality, because all of humanity doesn’t fit into the 3 major scripts (gay, bi, heter). And to that, I fully agree. And in the social sciences, we’re having those conversations quite a lot. But those conversations don’t require us to abandon or doubt scripts that are accurate for a great many (actually most) people.

      • DJ,

        I hear you. I would note, however, that color depends much less on social construction than the concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality. There is an underlying male-female sex dyad. The notions of heterosexuality and homosexuality assume that the sex dyad necessarily translates into distinct gender-role dyads, i.e., a masculine ideal and a feminine ideal. In evangelical circles, we tend to see this in terms of highly scripted gender roles, which are promoted under the banner of “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood.” Of course, the content of these idealized scripts varies from one culture to another.

        Further, people widely acknowledge that the concepts of “black” and “white” are insufficient to describe what we observe in nature. By contrast, the US culture still operates largely under the assumption that there is a straight script and a gay script. Bisexual people aren’t viewed as adopting an alternate script; they are simply viewed as people who hop back and forth between the other two scripts. Even so, it is widely assumed that the two scripts are sufficient to explain the range of human sexuality.

      • Evan, there’s a reason those scripts are so widely assumed: because upwards of 90% of the population fits them quite well and quite comfortably. It seems you lament that more people don’t understand the 10% who don’t, which is understandable. But this, again, is not a problem with the scripts, nor with the conditions of exclusive homo or hetero orientations, nor with the words “homosexuality” or “heterosexuality.” It is a problem with those who have limited understanding of the variety of scripts available. And again, there are plenty of people who do not limit their understanding to those scripts, thus the ever-expanding LGBTQIAADAASOSLRLOLFORREALZ??XXYWWJDKWTF?EOJFS#PLZSTOP spectrum for sexual minorities.

      • DJ,

        I would argue that many people don’t fit into those scripts. If that were the case, we would expect to see consistency between how different cultures construe masculinity and femininity. But we don’t. For example, masculinity is construed very differently in much of Europe, especially southern Europe, than in the US.

        People generally tend to choose social scripts from the set of plausible scripts that appear to be available to them. Put another way, people have difficulty imagining and adhering to social scripts unless they can observe others living out those scripts. Almost no other developed nation construes gender roles as narrowly or polices their boundaries as aggressively as the we Americans. In such a cultural environment, you would generally expect to see what you observe: 90% of people electing to conform to a very limited set of scripts. It doesn’t mean that they would necessarily choose those same scripts if they were given a broader range of choices.

        I spend about a week a month working in Europe. European men have much more freedom than American men to experiment with different social scripts without losing their masculinity. As a result, straight European men tend to adopt a much wider range of social scripts than straight American men. I took a three-year work assignment in Tokyo a few years ago, and observed much the same thing in Japan.

        So, I can’t agree with your suggestion that dichotomous scripts work well for 90% of people. If that were true, European and Asian men would elect to adopt such dichotomous scripts despite having a wider range of options. But they don’t. Instead, they experiment more and generally adopt a wider range of social scripts and do so without surrendering their masculinity.

        That’s what I’m looking for here. I’m looking to deconstruct our overly restrictive gender roles and permit men and women more freedom to adopt a wider range of social scripts. I feel much more comfortable in my skin on the streets of Zurich than I do in my home country. I’m not sure that that should be the case.

      • Evan, you’ve widely jumped ships on me here. Certainly you see that the scripts for masculinity and femininity are quite different than the scripts for homosexuality and heterosexuality? Obviously there is some overlap. But my comments here have been in response to your original statement that those terms are problematic. I simply don’t think that they are problematic. They are far more helpful than anything else.

        More importantly, I think it’s sloppy to now switch subjects to cultural constructs about masculinity and femininity. Yes, you will find vastly different views about those things from culture to culture (though, I hardly think it accurate to portray Americans as policing these roles more ardently than say South Americans, Western Europeans, or most cultures in Africa or the Arabic world – but again, that’s a whole other subject). But I don’t think you’re going to find wildly different variations regarding homosexuality and heterosexuality. Yes indeed, upwards of 90% of the WORLD conforms to one of those scripts (despite the fact that scripts regarding gender identity and gender roles vary to a greater degree). There is abundant social science to back this up. I’m not just pulling that number out my rear. “Heteronormativity” is normative for a reason. It is the most accurate (and accepted) script for the grand majority of people on the planet. That’s no mere accident…it’s in the genes, it’s in the neurochemical basis of the brain. I don’t think it does much good to pretend otherwise, simply because you don’t like that the script doesn’t fit everyone. Again, that’s a narrow-minded solution. Rather, you should say that the script as a SOLE script (or homosexuality and heterosexuality as the sole scripts) is too limiting because it doesn’t (they don’t) capture the full sexual spectrum of humanity. But that doesn’t mean they don’t capture the majority of humanity, nor that they should be abandoned BECAUSE they don’t capture the full spectrum. It’s a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You are conflating issues (i.e., the accuracy of scripts vs. the unanimity of scripts, and now sexuality scripts vs. gender identity scripts vs. gender role scripts) in a way that is not accurate or helpful.

        But I’m curious. Let’s go with your premise for the sake of argument. Let’s say I grant you that the terms “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” are inherently problematic. Let’s get rid of them. Now what? How do you suggest we refer to human sexuality or normative sexuality? What do we accomplish by getting rid of those terms, and what do we lose?

      • DJ,

        The terms “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” both assume that sexual orientation is essential to social identity. I reject that premise, as it’s nothing but Freudian bunk. Given that these concepts were unknown before the late 1800s, I think it’s fair to presume that we can arrive at formulations for sexual ethics without forcing a heteronormative gloss on the top.

        The prevailing (normative) scripts for masculinity and femininity in our culture both derive from heteronormative assumptions, i.e., are based on the assumption that normative sexuality is heterosexuality. That’s my point: We need to free the concepts of masculinity and femininity from their Freudian captivity, i.e., from their activity to heterosexuality.

        As to homosexuality, I would simply argue that it is nothing but an absurdist inversion of heterosexuality. In other words, it is a protest script that is entirely parasitic on the prevailing dominance of heteronormativity.

        I would recommend Michael Hannon’s two pieces last year in First Things. I would largely agree with Hannon. In my opinion, the weakness of the church’s current position lies in its facile acceptance of Freudian constructions of sexuality. Protestants have done so more thoroughly than Catholics, but the post-Vatican II Catholic Church has trended in this direction too.

      • So you haven’t really answered any of my questions. You have only (feebly) sought to deconstruct the terms homosexuality and heterosexuality.

        Here’s where I find that deconstruction to be presumptuous and faulty:

        The terms homo/heterosexuality do not “assume” that they are essential to social identity. Some of the people who use those terms might, but the terms themselves are only descriptors of sexual attraction and behavior. Which leads to…

        The concepts undergirding the terms are not, in fact, new constructions. Nor is their connection to masculinity/femininity new. I think you’ve jumped too quickly on the ever-so-popular “Freud is bad” train. And while that may be de rigueur these days, you make the mistake that most anti-Freudians do: you ascribe too much to him and too little at the same time. Only the former problem is relevant here, so that’s what I’ll deal with. But it’s easy enough to deal with. The connection between gender and sexual attraction and behavior is quite evident in many ancient societies, including ancient Greece (thus why grown men were often looked down upon if they desired to remain receptive/feminine in sexual behavior with other men). In fact, it is also fairly evident that this connection has a good deal to do with the proscriptions of homosexuality seen in ancient Jewish culture (i.e., in the Bible). Freud, I’m afraid, is not the progenitor of this connection.

        And there’s a good reason for this strong connection between gender role and sexuality: it’s rooted in biology. It IS in fact normative for most males to be attracted to and behave sexually exclusively with females. If we could ascribe a term to that process, we might easily say “heterosexuality is normative.”

        The part of my question you did not answer was: What do we lose by getting rid of terms like heterosexuality and homosexuality? Moreover, how DO we describe normative sexuality once we get rid of those terms? Unless of course you think normative sexuality is not important…In which case you have to tell me why it would be unimportant, as well as why on earth you would have any problems with same-sex sexual activity beyond Divine Command Theory in that eventuality.

        Like it nor not, there’s a reason those terms are pervasive across the globe: they are highly convenient because they do a better job at capturing normative sexuality than other terms do. People like these “scripts” because they match well with their intuitions and experiences. Perhaps you have a much harder time with those scripts because you are in the small minority of people for whom the scripts are discordant with your intuitions and experiences? And if that’s the case, I empathize with you and think that we need to create more scripts that capture the full range of human experiences, but I think we lose more than we gain by ridding ourselves of the terms which capture some very meaningful aspects of humanity for such a large portion of the population. (Also, if that’s the case, I think I would understand our disagreement here to be rooted in having very different understandings of the terms: you seem to lament populist understandings of the term and its related cultural baggage, whereas I’m viewing the terms purely from a social science perspective in which they are simple descriptors of human wiring and behavior).

        But I’m open to hearing about alternative sexuality constructs that you think are more helpful. What do you suggest? (In other words, deconstruction is easy, and intellectually lazy…the real meat is in construction. What do you have in that arena?)

      • DJ,

        I honestly don’t have any idea what you’re trying to achieve in this discussion. It is well established that the terms “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” have no meaning apart from orientation essentialism. They were invented in the late 1800s to describe that very notion. They have no progeny apart from it. I didn’t answer your questions because answering them forces one to assume the merits of orientation essentialism.

        Scripture merely counsels us not to engage in sodomy, namely anal sex. Moreover, there are likely prudential reasons for refraining from other kinds of non-procreative sex. After all, in I Corinthians 7, Paul proffers a fairly dim take on sexual desire, which would seem to cast a shadow of doubt over the propriety of any kind of recreational sex.

        I see no reason why these limitations require us to adopt some kind of normative script. Surely there’s more than one way to avoid committing sodomy, right? After all, we’re all wired a bit differently and have different life situations. It would seem to make more sense for people to exercise Christian wisdom and develop a suitable script that works in their given situation. Seeking to cram everyone into rigid sexualized scripts is likely the source of much of our current sexual confusion.

        I’m a corporate/licensing attorney at a start-up company, and generally support new business development initiatives. I don’t see the development of committed interpersonal relationships as being any different from the process of developing a new business relationship. In fact, this is how we have traditionally viewed committed relationships, including marriage. Redefining marriage along romantic lines was likely not an advance. Placing a Freudian gloss on top if it only made things worse.

        Lastly, I see little value in divine command ethics (DCE). Nick Wolterstorff provides a helpful critique of DCE in his book “Justice”. I largely agree with that critique. In particular, I reject any attempts to situate Christian ethics upon idealist epistemologies. In my view, Scripture commends us to be epistemic realists and to exercise wisdom based upon what we observe around us. In that sense, Scripture teaches its own insufficiency with respect to the nitty-gritty of most ethical decision-making.

        Regarding Freud, I primarily reject the Freudian notion that all interpersonal desire is reducible to genital-erotic desire. Thus, I think it’s quite reasonable to have an emotional attraction to someone without having to be concerned that that emotional attraction will become a gateway to desiring to romp around in bed with that person. Such a decoupling of emotional desire from sexual desire lies counter to Freud and lies counter to the notion of “heterosexuality.” If you simply want to refer to sexual desire, just say “sexual desire.” I see no reason to try to recover the term “heterosexuality” from its Freudian captivity and give it some legitimacy. Just let it die. Your desire to cling to it smacks of an interest in coercing people into constrictive, dichotomous social identities that they may not choose apart from the coercion.

      • DJ,

        I would also note that there is no universal script for “heterosexuality.” If we merely interpret it to mean “normal,” which is what you seem to be doing, even “normal” looks very different from country to country and from era to era. By the standards of most European countries, I’m perfectly “heterosexual.” But by American Midwest standards (where my employer has located me for the present moment), I’m queer. After all, just because people in Italy use the term “heterosexuality” and people in Texas use the term “heterosexuality,” doesn’t imply that they mean the same thing by it. In Italy, after all, “heterosexuality” includes kicking a soccer ball around on the beach with your buddies in nothing but a lime green Speedo. In Texas, nothing could be further from the truth.

        Your claims regarding their universality of “heterosexuality” merely suggest to me that you don’t travel much, or that you’re not too observant of the gender roles people adopt in the places you do travel.

      • DJ,

        Not to keep piling on… 🙂

        But I sense that you’re using “heterosexuality” to refer to something along the lines of…”amenable to conforming to a script for masculinity or femininity that is deemed suitable for opposite-sex coupling within the person’s social context.”

        As it goes, it’s a useful concept. But, in most cases, I sense that it says more about the social context than it does about the individual in question. In Europe and Asia, we tend to see much greater breadth in terms of what is deemed by the culture to be suitable for opposite-sex coupling. I suspect that that’s because most Europeans tend to stay in place to a greater degree than most Americans. So, the scripts broaden to accommodate more people. In contrast, Americans tend to sort themselves out into places where there are more people like themselves, even if it means moving across the country and away from family. As a result, the US may offer a similar breadth of scripts for acceptable masculinity and femininity as any European or Asian country, but probably not in any location.

        My current frustration probably relates to the fact that I accepted a job that was supposed to allow me to work from Zurich. I simply had to come to Chicago for 6 weeks of training. The 6 weeks of training has turned into 2 years, and the company is still servicing central Europe from Chicago.

      • I think the disagreement here, Evan, is that you seem to think that the terms are more than just descriptions.

        What I mean by “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” is what social scientists mean by those terms: they are descriptions for sexual attraction and behavior. Nothing more, nothing less. You are looking at those terms from a postmodern constructionist lens, and thereby deconstructing them. But the terms aren’t all that important to me…the concepts which they try to capture are important. You seem to be saying that there is no such thing as sexual attraction and behavior, and further, you seem to be saying that we could not find a normal distribution within humanity regarding sexual attractions and behaviors. I think nothing could be further from the truth.

        My insistence on retaining the terms is because I find them accurate. Again, you’ve given me fine regurgitated reasons (from a deconstructionist context) for getting rid of them, but have provided no actual evidence for why I should. You also insist that the terms require dichotomy, but as I have stated ad nauseum, there is only a need to reduce the terms to dichotomy if one insists on doing so (as you do). But I have no such need. I think there is homosexuality, heterosexuality, asexuality, demisexuality, (a term you yourself have used), etc. Retaining homo/hetero does not necessitate ridding myself of any others.

        I guess I don’t understand why you feel the need to get rid of terms that people like and identify with. I am homosexual: my attraction and behavior are oriented towards men. Why must I get rid of an accurate term? My parents are heterosexual. They have sexual attraction exclusively for people of the opposite sex, and have only had sexual contact with those of the opposite sex. Why rid myself of an accurate term for them, and one which they are comfortable with?

        What I’m trying to understand from you is what is inaccurate about this statement:

        The majority of humans across the globe are sexually attracted to those of the opposite sex and have exclusive sexual contact with those of the opposite sex.

        Provide me evidence for why that statement is inaccurate, and then we would probably better understand each other.

        As for the “universality” of heterosexuality, I think you are misunderstanding me, and you are once again conflating sexuality and gender identity. If a Texan saw 2 men in lime speedos and thought they might be gay, they (like you) would be conflating sexuality and gender identity. So they would be just as wrong about the terms as you are 🙂 (Kidding. I’m really trying to understand you here. But so far, I’m only hearing deconstructionist arguments, without any alternative way of describing human sexuality. Perhaps another way to clear up the confusion would be to answer this: how do you describe human sexual behavior, and can that behavior be categorized?)

      • DJ,

        OK. I think I see our difference, and I suspect that there’s no hope for bridging the chasm.

        All knowledge is socially constructed. Period. To suggest that “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” can have a meaning apart from their social context amounts to nothing more than universalizing the social context that you’ve elected to take for granted.

        Also, you seem to be confusing the notion of social construction with the way it’s put to use by certain anti-realist philosophers. There are also ways of employing social construction that are still firmly moored to a realist view of the world. See, e.g., Michael Polanyi, Jurgen Habermas, Peter Berger, Thomas Reid, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Ronald Coase, etc.

        Because you can’t escape social construction, I’d rather deconstruct it rather than taking it for granted.

        For the record, my primary concern is with cultural models for masculinity. In particular, my concern is with the models of masculinity that are often imposed on men in evangelical church contexts under the guise of “biblical manhood.”

      • Evan, for someone who has decried dichotomies throughout this conversation, it is honestly baffling to me that the only options you see before you are to take socially constructed knowledge for granted or to deconstruct it. It appears that you assume that I take it for granted, and if that’s the case, you’d be wrong, and you do me harm by minimizing the anguishing journey I have had to self-acceptance and understanding. I assure you I have thoroughly analyzed it, critiqued it, and deconstructed it… and reconstructed it in a more meaningful, inclusive manner.

        I guess the reason I keep badgering you is because you seem to be at odds with most social constructionist thinkers on issues of sexuality that I’ve read, who do not merely deconstruct, but who have come up with more helpful ways of thinking about and discussing human sexuality (which typically does not entail ridding the conversation of terms like hetero/homo, but contextualizing them within spectra rather than binaries).

        Which is why you are such a puzzle to me. I mean, I get the gender role thing. I really do. You and I are SO on the same page with that (though, with differing endpoints, because I very much see the Scriptural proscriptions of homosexuality as being exquisitely bound to Jewish constructs of masculinity and femininity – which I find highly problematic, thus my Side A status as opposed to your – I presume – Side B status). But let’s have that discussion another day.

        I can’t quite put my mind around why you feel that the only options are taking constructions for granted, or terminally deconstructing them…especially in light of the fact that you reify sexuality constructs by identifying yourself as a demisexual. It doesn’t square in my mind. But I can only imagine it does in yours, because you’re clearly an intelligent guy. Can you explain that?

        And I really, really, really want to know why you feel so strongly that *I* need to rid myself of constructs that really work for me (like being a gay male). Or is it more that you feel you need to rid yourself of them because they have hurt you? If this is about the latter, then I am more than happy to let you do it, because I wouldn’t want to compound your pain, or demolish the clarity that works for you. But is there perhaps a way to do that which doesn’t require you (or me) to erase my identity and journey in the process?

        Perhaps this article better expresses it than I have been able to:
        http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/03/04/sexuality_as_social_construct_foucault_is_misunderstood_by_conservatives.html

      • DJ,

        The statement that I find particularly problematic is the following: “The majority of humans across the globe are sexually attracted to those of the opposite sex and have exclusive sexual contact with those of the opposite sex.”

        As I noted above, ample research has shown that people have difficulty assessing their sexual desires (and a variety of other desires) apart from socially viable plausibility structures, namely social narratives that others are living out. So, your statement makes no sense unless you examine the social scripts that people reasonably believed were available to them.

        Until very recently, there were only two predominant scripts for men: the straight script and the gay script. And the latter of these two scripts was socially stigmatized to a strong degree, and, until 2003, criminalized in some places. So, when you effectively give people one narrative through which to interpret their desires, it is unpersuasive to conclude that that script works for 95% of men. Relative to what? One other choice, which, if chosen, could cost you your job and get you thrown into jail! Come on.

        Europe is about 1-2 decades ahead of the US in abandoning the stigma against the gay script. Of course, in the process of destigmatizing the gay script, a wider variety of alternative social scripts have emerged for being masculine. As a result, same-sex coupling has actually declined. In fact, in some cases, people have separated from same-sex partners and have paired up with opposite-sex partners. In other words, opposite-sex coupling has actually become more predominant because the the culture has come to accept a wider array of plausible social scripts that opposite-sex couples can follow.

        So, this does speak to a certain complementarity between men and women. But it also suggests that that complementarity can play itself out in different ways in different couples. Of course, men and women complement each other in a whole host of ways, most of which have nothing to do with sex. But what we observe merely speaks to the merits of the complementarity of male and female. It says nothing about the merits of “heterosexuality,” which refers to a particular Freudian narrative for understanding that complementarity.

        You seem to make the false assumption that the male-female dyad necessarily requires that there be a corresponding masculine-feminine dyad (i.e., idealized normative scripts for describing how complementarity should be performed). I see no reason to do this. It simply reeks of a modernist effort to demystify male-female complementarity in a manner that causes more harm than good. It’s far better just to admit to the mysteriousness of that complementarity and let it run its course without trying to impose restrictive social scripts (e.g., heterosexuality) on top of it. In general, people make better choices when they are encouraged to exercise wisdom and experiment with a range of social scripts. By subsidizing heterosexuality, we actually prevent that from occurring, which, in my opinion, leads to weaker families and increased social instability. If we stop trying to rig the outcome in favor of heterosexuality, a spontaneous order will emerge. But if the “marriage market” is to yield efficient results, we have to stop promoting heterosexuality.

        Yes, I’m a huge disciple of Gary Becker and of the Chicago School of economics in general.

      • DJ,

        Thanks for giving me a clearer picture of your situation. I’ve been assuming that you were a conservative evangelical of the “biblical manhood and womanhood” persuasion.

        Ultimately, if I could sum up my goal it is to promote policies that permit marriage markets to operate efficiently within our particular social context. And I would include same-sex coupling arrangements as legitimate options within the market. For me, the relevant ethical question concerns what kinds of sexual activity are acceptable within the context of a relationship, not the relationship itself. And I don’t think it’s my place to question the propriety of what other people do.

        That being said, it’s my guess that a efficiently operating marriage market will lead to a decrease in same-sex coupling. Some of this comes from my own experience.

        I’m of French and Irish descent. I’m on the short side, have a very slender build, have little body hair, and look much younger than my age. I look like a cross between Sean Paul Lockhart and Daniel Radcliffe. By traditional American standards, I’m “cute” but definitely not “handsome.” I shop exclusively in the Boys department, although I do fine with XS at H&M and Uniqlo. I like sex, but don’t feel any special need to have to have it. And, I generally need to make an emotional connection with someone before I desire sex. Even so, my interests are pretty traditionally masculine: beer, sports, etc.

        In more socially traditional parts of the US (e.g., Chicago), women just ignore me. It seems I’m only attracted to gay men. In contrast, in more socially liberal parts of the US (SFO, LA, NY, San Diego), I generally don’t have difficulty going out and attracting women. The same is true in Europe. I work in Zurich a lot, but travel around to other places on weekends. I generally have no difficulty at all finding women in Europe who find me attractive.

        So, I think a lot of what makes sense depends on where you are. In Chicago, I would have difficulty with opposite-sex coupling because Chicago women are generally looking for men who more closely match the Mel Gibson image of masculinity. Never mind that most women in Chicago would crush my 118-pound frame. On the other hand, I would have no trouble with opposite-sex coupling in many coastal US cities or in Europe. So, a lot of my thinking is probably shaped by my own experiences. To be honest, if I’d not grown up in a conservative evangelical family in a very traditional part of the US, I probably never would have given any thought to the possibility that I may be gay. If, by contrast, I’d grown up in La Jolla (where my parents now live) in a secular home, I’d probably never have even given it a passing thought.

        Anyway, it’s been good to share.

      • Evan773:

        I hope this is in the right place on this blog. To make sense of what you say about Chicago, I assume there is a misprint–you meant to say “I am only attractive to gay men [and not to straight women] there” rather than ” I am only attracted to gay men there”

      • Evan, it’s been nice sharing with you too 🙂

        I agree with you that opening up more scripts as being “normative” (vs. deviant) will free many people to find and live out their authentic sexual selves. But not most people…I think most people are going to simply be biologically driven to “fraternize” with the opposite sex. And as such, opposite sex coupling is always going to appear normative to any individual (since they will look around and see most of the people about them opposite sexing it up). It’s human nature to create a story about what we observe, so I think even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to rid ourselves of a heterosexual script…but I do think it’s quite possible to change the narrative of the script, and to create other scripts

        Your example about Europe is a good one. I’m not familiar with the empirical evidence that same sex coupling has declined in Europe (do you happen to have a specific source for that? by “coupling, do ), but I easily buy it. Lisa Diamond’s recent research on sexual fluidity in males and females is I think reflective of the phenomenon you speak of (see her very interesting talk at Cornell in 2013: http://www.cornell.edu/video/lisa-diamond-on-sexual-fluidity-of-men-and-women). The reason she’s been shocked by her own research is because of the very thing you express here: cultural limitation of scripts. If the only options you’re given are gay and straight, then anyone with a same sex attraction is going to think they’re gay…until they realize they’re also straight.

        When I was in college, bisexuality was wholly a joke. No one bought it. But there’s a strong bi movement these days, which has been helpful, because it’s opened the door to what Diamond is seeing: many of the “gay” men and “lesbian” women are really quite sexually fluid, and not at all exclusive (though she has also consistently found that there are a remarkably similar percentage of exclusives across the various large-scale surveys she’s mined).

        So yes, let’s broaden the scripts. (Here again I make a case for not eliminating any scripts in the process though. I, for one, do not appear to be “sexually fluid”…on some level, I always knew I was into guys, and that was before I even knew what “gay” was…having the script was FREEDOM for me in many ways, because it helped me make sense of why I was so qualitatively different from everyone else around me.)

        I’m quite curious about your own experience. Since you only have sexual desire with people you are emotionally close to, and you tend to want to be emotionally closer to men than to women, have you ever had an emotionally close relationship with a woman and then sexually desired her? Do you think you have that capacity? Would you ever be open to marrying a woman? And if so, would you care if sex was part of that relationship or not? Or if you were in a covenant relationship with a man, do you imagine that you would be able to NOT have sex in such a relationship, since you very well might develop sexual desire for them…or is controlling your sexual desire (i.e., not acting on it) fairly easy for you to do?

        Feel free to tell me to mind my business, or to not ask such ignorant questions…I won’t be offended 🙂 It’s just not often that I come across people who identify as demi. So I (rudely and selfishly) always pump them with questions when I can, because I must know all the things. I suppose that’s why I’m a therapist. It’s a good way to learn all the things 🙂

      • I think there is some talking past each other here re: “sexual orientation.”
        Certainly, DJ, it goes without saying that males have always mostly paired with females. Obviously, this is just how reproduction works. It wouldn’t work otherwise.
        However, I think there is something disingenuous about saying this is equivalent to the modern idea of “heterosexuality.” The practical effect may be the same (broadly), but the inner logic is very different.
        What I understand by sexual orientation has a lot more to do with gender rather than sex. It’s about men being attracted to women, not males being attracted to females.
        Which is to say, it’s become about accidental externals more than the essence. It’s become less about potential-fathers looking for the potential-mother of their children, and more about a life-narrative of striving to fulfill ones own masculinity through some Freudian symbolic/archetypal transference exchange with the category of the mythical Woman.
        As such, we see a shift. Men aren’t as concerned about virginity and fertility and “child-bearing hips.” People’s sexual attractions are now about hollow accidents, “certain contours and shapes and curves. Body parts fetishized like in a cargo-cult. Personality traits fulfilling some unresolved subconscious infantile conflict.”
        Heterosexuality as a construct is not just about a male being attracted to a female, or even a man being attracted to women, but something like an overarching identity structuring revolving around ones relationship to Woman.
        I’m not sure I’m conveying the difference accurately, so I’ll offer a little quip I heard on the subject: “God made Adam and Eve, He didn’t make Adam and his Oedipal Mother, and that girl he was in puppy love with as a kid, and that teacher in 7th grade who wore the tight sweaters, and his high school sweetheart Amber, and his friend Sara who always bore a flame for him but he thought it was platonic but still they made out that one time after he broke up with Amber, and that girl at the coffee shop he flirts with, and his crazy ex Diane who still stalks him, and that goth girl he went on one date with out of curiosity, and his best friends hot sister he secretly was hooking up with one summer and now it’s awkward.”
        If you see what I’m saying. The latter chain of Woody-Allenesque “personal narrative of sexual identity revolving around relationship with The Opposite Sex” is heterosexuality and the sexual orientation framework. “Adam and Eve” by itself is no, even though by definition that dynamic is also, of course, necessarily opposite sex.
        Traditional moral sexuality is about attraction to the opposite sex qua reproductive partner. Modern “sexual orientation” is about a fixation with the opposite sex qua a lot of accidental gender traits and physical externals and mythologizing emotional transferences.

      • I suppose another way to think of the difference may be like this:

        Under traditional sexuality, the normative category of men relating to women was that of Wife, the legitimate mother of his children. Yes, people still had mistresses and harlots to satisfy emotional transferences and base physical lusts, but the categories were recognized as deviant or at least derogative from the primary normative category of Wife.

        Under sexual orientation, while people still get married and have children of course, I’d argue that the normative category or archetypal opposite sex relationship is that of Girlfriend. Wives just become just a sort of subset or crowning of the Girlfriend relationship. Sexuality is conceived of primarily not as something embedded in family structures or networks, but as an individualistic companionate relationship between independent adults.

        Even when there are children, the companionate relationship between the parents comes to (unhealthily, I think) be seen as the primary or most important love in the family rather than (naturally, I think) the love of parents for their children.

      • mradeknal: What I understand by sexual orientation has a lot more to do with gender rather than sex. It’s about men being attracted to women, not males being attracted to females.

        I’m not so sure about that. [Cis] gay men and heterosexual women are generally NOT attracted to trans men. Trans-women fare better because there is a subset of heterosexual men who are interested in ‘transsexuals’ (and prefer it when trans-women do not fully transition). I would say sexual orientation has a lot more to do with attraction to biological sex rather than gender.

      • They’re both utilitarian; using someone to fulfill a transference is just as objectifying as using them to have a child.

        As for “it’s about biological sex” I disagree. The construct of “attraction” is by definition about appearances. People are attracted to trans people *to the degree they pass or are convincing.* Sure, when pants are down or hands are still manly…most people may not still be attracted. But that’s because that’s the point where appearances fail, where the gender-performance becomes less than convincing; it’s not some concern for the reproductive essence of biological sex.

      • I don’t disagree with *to the degree they pass or are convincing* – which is why gay men will say “he looks hot” to a photo of a trans guy (who can pass) but also draw the line at sleeping with the same guy – as it’s very difficult to convincingly change sex down there (not that many trans-guys are interested in men anyway)

        And gay men are not always put off by gender atypical status, mannerisms or behaviors (or even clothes) if the guy has a great body. They, of course, much prefer gender typical (masculine) biological males.

      • Right, they are both utilitarian. However I would argue that the current approach of a man towards a woman is closer to the biblical ideal. After all a man tries to find a single woman that would be everything to him whereas before they had a wife to have kids, a whore to get pleasure and a mistress to be in love with.

      • Oh I agree. Perhaps you misunderstand my use of the terms. Again, I said modern sexual orientation is not about males desiring females, but about men desiring women. I never brought masculine and feminine into it. There are of course feminine men whom those attracted to men (straight women, gay men) can still be attracted to.

        The point seems to be, though, that people are desired nowadays primarily under the aspect of Symbol. But symbolism highly includes the body. But the body considered as convincing (and people have different levels of pickiness there) Man or Woman, not as father-of-my-children or mother-of-my-children.

        The answer to the question “Why is men’s attraction predominantly towards women?” will no longer be answered with “Duh, because only a female can be the other half of my male reproductive system.”

        Nowadays among the culture wherein the sterile fornicatory relationship is the norm and sex is primarily conceived as about intimacy and aesthetics and lust…the answer is much vaguer.

        For some people of course, a sort of biological determinism is the answer. “It’s pre-programmed: born that way!!!”

        For others of us, that is simply too hard to swallow. We speak of no other preference, be it for classical music over pop, or impressionist painting over expressionist, or pizza over pasta, this way. Biological predisposition, certainly. But arbitrary limits on desire with no other explanation than a mysterious mechanistic materialism of the brain? I’m incredulous.

        And yet there is no denying that people still generally are attracted to one sex or the other. Why? You can get intimacy and companionship from both. There are beautiful forms and skin aplenty in both sexes. So what is that je be sais quoi that most men can only get from a woman, but that I can only get from a man?

        If I’m honest about my introspection, it’s not just “arbitrary neurologically based itch.” For one because how “man” would be “defined” by such a mechanism is still up for grabs (as the question of trans men and passing shows).

        Honestly, to me, it feels like the reason one sex or the other is syntonic and offers that extra something that clicks for us and drives us to be motivated to pursue what otherwise is a lot of work for something rather awkward (relationships, and sex) and always less than fantasy suggests…is because only a man effectively fulfills some transference for me emotionally on a deep level.

        There is some symbolic equation deep in my psyche that only a performance of symbolic exchange with the symbol Man solves or resolves the remainder of.

        A trans man could do this just as well *up until the point* (and the point is different for different people) when the performance fails for me. The point is, though, cis or trans, it’s about the *performance* of the Man category (note I didn’t say Masculine; that’s a different question).

        This includes, yes, even primarily, the *physical* performance (a convincing and attractive “costume” of flesh). But even when we identify Man or Woman primarily with their successful deployment of their “flesh consume”…the paradigm is still performance. We have still moved away from the ontological, from the category of Being such as is inherent in Male and Female.

        I’m adamantly NOT trying to push ex-gay stuff. A social constructionist or psycho-dramatic model of sexuality does not imply believing it can change, at least not on the individual level (if the whole social frame changes, that’s another question).

        I’m just saying that when you get rid of or deemphasize functionalist reproductive concerns (male and female), what’s left to incentivize orientation and even having two separate gender categories (man and woman) at all, can only be in the realm of scripts and narratives and identity and symbolism.

      • You think the biological explanation for sexual orientation is to simple for you to swallow and I think you are very much overly complicating the entire issue… To the point that it is too complicated for me to accept.

      • mradeknal,

        “What I understand by sexual orientation has a lot more to do with gender rather than sex. It’s about men being attracted to women, not males being attracted to females.”

        It sounds like just that: YOUR understanding. But what you speak of hasn’t much at all to do with what we social scientists are talking about when we talk about heterosexuality and homosexuality. From a biological/neurological standpoint, heterosexuality is about males being attracted to females…which is why we can talk about heterosexuality within animal species. When a male is exclusively attracted to and mates with females, that’s what we call heterosexual. Everything you talk about concerning heterosexuality is how culture and different parts of the brain (specifically the prefrontal cortex) gets mixed up in our heterosexuality (e.g., our desire to identify by various aspects of our biological makeup, including gender and sexuality), creating complex constructs of how we view our heterosexuality.

      • Well yes and no, DJ.

        That’s the thing about constructs: they’re always constructing something real. There is no doubt sexual orientation, as a framework, “captures” real patterns that exist.

        Just like the construct of Race is capturing, with a broad brush, physical traits that really exist.

        But to jump from that to telling me the analysis of Race is primarily the realm of the Dermatologist and not the sociologist or cultural-historical critic…strains credulity.

        In that sense we might say this: “sexual orientation” is the modern construction OF the reality we might more neutrally call “sexual preference,” just like Race is a particular historically contingent narrative constructing the geographically based distribution of phenotype of skin color and hair and facial structure.

        By denying the distinction, you risk “smuggling in under the radar” the baggage of all sorts of assumptions that the orientation construction is already dependent on.

        You say “for me,” but anecdotal evidence suggests it isn’t just for me. Males have always been attracted to females. But the mechanism or inner logic or structure of it has not always been the same, and I’m very suspicious of any attempt to elide the phenomena of past and present (let alone human and animal!) without *lots* of qualification making this clear.

        As for my assertions about gender performance vs sexual ontology…I think some examples make this clear enough.

        We already brought up the trans example. Another example might be the cis drag queen. This is a biological male who puts on the ultimately purely cosmetic social signifiers of womanhood. There is no intrinsic reason why long hair, make-up, stuffed bras, and dresses couldn’t be the style for Men in a society rather than women.

        And yet I’m not attracted to drag queens qua drag. Even though biologically they’re as male as anyone, underneath the cosmetic signifiers have a fully functioning male anatomy, etc. I could be attracted to them if they stepped out of the woman act/costume, maybe I can even (with a keen eye and a lot of imagination) imagine “the man behind the woman” and have some inkling of whether I’d be attracted to that. But to the drag queen “herself” (ie, the character performed)? Not at all. When it’s a “male woman,” my attractions (or lack thereof) respond to the Woman performance much much much more than to the Male reality.

        To me at least this is more than enough to show that attraction, at least under the “sexual orientation” script, responds to Man and Woman, not male and female.

      • If it was all a biologically pre-programmed response to sex rather than gender…why should the cosmetic signifiers matter if I know it’s a male in the end with a male body and functioning male genitalia? Your answer might be “well, because the sensory signifiers don’t indicate that” but that’s exactly the point: the reason *those* signifiers do or don’t indicate it…are entirely contingent and socially constructed.

        If I find it hard to believe the brain could come preprogrammed regarding sex, it is impossible to believe it comes pre-programmed regarding cosmetic signifiers we know are culturally contingent. But then what’s left? If the brain’s “innate orientation” isn’t modeling the category of sex based on actual sex (otherwise a male drag queen would be just as likely to attract me) but also isn’t (can’t be) modeling it based on certain fixed cues (which are not fixed from culture to culture necessarily)…then how is the brain “defining” the category of sex it allegedly has a fixed preference for?

        Because I’m not attracted to just anything with a penis (specifically if: that person is enacting Womanhood). But I’m also not attracted to a category defined merely by certain crudely defined visual parameters (short hair, wears pants, no lumps in the chest) because we can imagine a world where what we consider butch was normative for women and what we consider drag was normative for men (the 17th-century aristocrats come close…)

        But in what other way could the brain come pre-programmed with an attraction to this or that sex if the *specific content* or definition of that category is entirely indeterminate?

      • mrakednal,

        Again, you are (overly) complicating a very simple biological system. Apply your reasoning to animals to see why.

        At the end of the day, you want “that D.” That is what you are biologically/neurologically wired for. Where construction comes in is how you are culturally taught to define what is attached to that D, and that requires a prefrontal cortex. This is why human sexuality is more complicated for humans than animals: because we have the ability to mask/hide/alter our sex, thus confusing the hypothalamus’s sexually dimorphic nucleus (SDN). But recognize that this occurs in higher parts of the brain. When social scientists speak of hetero/homosexuality, we are fundamentally talking about the hypothalamus first, and absolutely interested in what happens beyond that as well (i.e., ways in which the hypothalamus is tricked, inhibited, or otherwise altered).

        In short, you and I aren’t really disagreeing with each other. It’s just another exercise in “talking past each other.” Everything you describe, I agree with, except for the very minor fact that you are trying to force a definition of sexuality on me that is not accepted by social science. You are ascribing cultural (and biological) phenomena to a process that exists without the additional baggage you’re placing on it. To be sure, I think the baggage is the most interesting part! And we could talk ad nauseum about it. But you are homosexual because you want to have sex with males. Period. WHICH males is not a necessary condition for describing homosexuality. Those specifics will vary across culture, time, and even each individual.

      • I’m with DJ. I cannot experience the thrill of being turned on by aristocrats in their silks and wigs but I accept that these things were closely associated with being biologically male in the 17th century. Gender isn’t totally independent from sex – although it might seem like it is if you fast-forward or rewind a couple of generations..

      • I also agree with DJ. I’m heterosexual but I’m not attracted by all men. I only feel attraction to some men. However I’m definitely not attracted to women.

      • @DJ (June 1)

        I’ve been traveling for work, and didn’t follow up.

        Yeah, I think we basically agree. I don’t favor eliminating any scripts, so long as they do a reasonably good job of making sense of some number of people’s sexuality. I just think we operate with too few scripts in the US. I suspect that, if more scripts become available, more people will discover greater sexual fluidity.

        And, yes, I have experienced sexual attraction to both men and women. In terms of a long-term coupling arrangement, I would probably prefer to be with a woman. But I wouldn’t want that to preclude my ability to maintain friendships with male friends. Also, I don’t find there to be anything wrong with experiencing sexual attraction to people. After all, just because I sense a sexual euphoria around someone doesn’t necessarily mean that that feeling can only find its end in intercourse.

      • I simply have no identification with your allegedly-universal-in-social-science concept of sexuality, then.

        You haven’t answered in anyway how “the hypothalamus” is defining the categories of attraction (ie, of sex) and to define sexual attraction as “wanting to have sex with” is further clumsy (as sexual desire is itself manifold and is not essentially reducible to any particular act; we gays have quite a variety of fantasy preferences, and not all of us have any interest in penetration whatsoever, etc)

        The whole notion of desire you espouse is foreign to me and manifestly incoherent. To me, desire is always an act of self-interpretation in humans. The “reptile brain” may provide a sort of ambiguous physiological response or arousal, but “what it means” is always mediated by word and script and culture and symbolic processing (the “misattribution” of arousal experiments prove this, though I’d disagree there is anything “mis” about it!)

      • LOL! Mradeknal

        Your objections to accepting a basic definition are bordering on the absurd at this point.

        Let’s see, so far you’ve been able to articulate that the well-accepted definitions of heterosexuality and homosexuality (that are found quite easily in any dictionary, or any scientific paper about the subject) are unacceptable because:

        1. They don’t define WHICH people among a given sex you’re attracted to.

        And now…

        2. Because I haven’t described adequately enough HOW the SDN distinguishes between the sexes.

        And…

        3. Because they don’t adequately define WHICH sex acts you want to perform with someone.

        Really? Think about that a little. How are any of those issues important to the definition?

        Heterosexual = sexual attraction and behavior with those of the opposite sex. Homosexual = sexual attraction and behavior with those of the same sex.

        If a heterosexual man isn’t attracted to a transgender man (MtF), does that really make him less heterosexual? If he doesn’t understand how/why his SDN distinguishes between males and females, does that make him non-heterosexual? If he only wishes to perform mutual, manual masturbation with women, does that somehow exclude him from the world of heterosexuality?

        This concept is far less “clumsy” and “incoherent” than you make it out to be. If you can’t tell the difference between being happy to see your mom and wanting to have sex with Brad Pitt, then I’m afraid you have far bigger problems than your confusion about a simple, widely accepted definition here.

        Again, I’m not saying sexuality is “simple” or “reducible.” I’m not saying that the meanings we ascribe to sex/sexuality and our own physiological states of arousal aren’t multiple. I’m not saying that social constructs have nothing at all to do with the complex issue of human sexuality. I’m not saying that all of sex occurs in the hypothalamus. As I stated before, there are multiple areas of the brain that are involved in sex. The number of areas of the human brain that are active (on fMRI) during sexual arousal are quite complex indeed! The ways in which culture and social constructs interact with our sexual desire are dizzying, and make human sexuality one of the most interesting issues on the planet (obviously, which is why humans can’t stop talking and fighting about it!)

        But there are certain ways in which human sexuality has been dissected to help us understand it better, and certain words have been used to describe various aspects of it. When people want to have sex with children, we call them pedophiles. I hardly think a mom would feel comforted hearing your convolution of such a term: “Oh, listen deary, it’s really not what you think…that poor man REALLY isn’t interested in ALL little boys, just the ones who aren’t dressed in little girls clothes (like your son), and besides, he just wants to play with his penis, he’s not interested in insertion. So you see, pedophilia isn’t what you think it is! Relax!”

        When people want to have sex with animals, we call that beastiality.

        When people want to have sex with those of the same (homo) sex (sex), we have this nifty little word for it: homosexuality. It really is that simple. Because that’s what definitions do: they make phenomena articulable to others for the sake of communication.

        We agree on a lot more than I think we disagree on. But right now, we are talking about a definition, and I can’t help but feel like I’m trying to tell Bill Clinton that he really DID have sexual relations with Monica, but he balks because I haven’t adequately defined the word “with.”

        So if you have a different definition of homosexuality or heterosexuality, please articulate it, and then give me the source you’re using to substantiate that definition. Because you and I don’t seem to be talking about the same thing. What word(s) would you use to describe someone who exclusively wants to have sex with those of the same sex or those of the opposite sex?

        Otherwise, Bill, I suggest you go have another chat with Hillary about your confusion. Maybe she can take some time from the campaign trail to break it down for ya 😉

    • “Oddly enough, we live in a culture where an emotionally intimate non-sexual friendship between two men is no less scandalous than same-sex marriage. Around the age of 16, we guys are expected to start distancing ourselves emotionally from our guy friends and focusing on dating women (with an eye toward marriage and kids).”

      Part of why I work with my local LGBT group to normalize homosexuality and support it being visible as a benign, uncommon alternative to heterosexual pairings in every sphere of the culture is because it will help fix this sort of problem. I have straight male friends who never share anything with me or anyone – even things that need to be shared like their mother dying. Found out one was having problems and feeling overwhelmed by his job because he drank himself into a hospital bed and only then broke down and explained the situation.

      Setting fire to these obsolete, toxic traditions that hard code gender and helping feminists burn this Mesopotamic cancer out of society will make this better for everyone, I think.

      If two married gay men are seen as no different than a white man and a black woman married together then two friends showing intimacy will be just as easily overlooked by the masses.

  6. Pingback: Joseph Ratzinger and Rowan Williams: Contraception and Same-Sex Marriage | Spiritual Friendship

  7. Hi Ron, I appreciate the tone and perspectives you take. When the Canadian government of the day changed the definition of marriage to allow “same sex” marriage, some colleagues of mine asked me what I thought. My answer ran a little like this: “a society that winks and nods at adultery will have very little to say about same sex marriage.” In deed the conversation about sexuality needed to be decades ago. We are in a time when your friendship and respect for/with those with whom you disagree is the model I appreciate. Here is my attempts to speak to this
    :https://moreenigma.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/r-e-s-p-e-c-t/

    Thanks, Rusty

  8. I know these questions have been posed before, but when there is a primary focus placed on procreation, I’m curious where that leaves couples who are infertile, either due to age, biology or other causes? Should opposite sex couples not be allowed to marry because they are not able to have children by “natural” means? What if a couple chooses not to have children? Sure they may come to change their minds about this but should be they allowed to marry – from a traditional Christian POV – if they go into the marriage unwilling to have children?

  9. “marriage isn’t in danger of being redefined; the redefinition began decades ago, in the wake of the sexual revolution. Once the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination, marriage morphed into an exclusive romantic bond that has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction.”

    From my understanding, the idea of companionate marriage is not (only) a product of the sexual revolution, but rather dates all the way back to the Puritans. I have several articles that I’m hoping to get to soon that make this argument. Any thoughts on this?

    • While Rine’s point regarding the prior redefinition of marriage is valid, I would suggest that these views indeed pre-days the 1960s. It was probably in the 1960s that this became the predominant view of marriage, fueled in large measure by the availability of cheap and effective contraceptives.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if some Puritans didn’t indeed extol the notion of companionship marriage. Having rejected religious orders, the Puritans would likely have sought to inculcate some institution through which non-procreators related to the larger society. I suspect, however, that these arrangements still focused on fulfilling third-party social obligations rather than on merely fulfilling the personal desires of the parties to the marriage.

    • Agreed, @jd_shelly.

      However, until the sexual revolution the growing focus on romantic/companionate marriage coexisted with the procreative understanding of marriage by necessity. Regardless of the psychological motives within the relationship, sexual intimacy produces children.

      Note that Rine’s point is not just about companionate marriage per se , but about the change brought about by severing sex from procreation, which changed marriage into an exclusively romantic bond.

  10. Pingback: Awe and Wonder: A Preliminary Comment on Laudato Si’ | Spiritual Friendship

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