A Quickie: BlackCelibacy.com

By now I am well aware that my post can be a long so, every now and then, I will post a “Quickie.” I am sure all of us know what a “Quickie” is even if we aren’t currently sexually active, but just in case you don’t know what it is, it is quick sex. The kind of sexual event that includes little foreplay and is uninterested in prolonging pleasure, just experiencing pleasure as quickly as possible. As it pertains to “Sex and the Sanctuary” the “Quickie” will be short posts about things that I have found interesting but that I don’t have time to write a thesis on. Despite its brevity, I still hope that people will chime in and comment. Heck, I hope it will be easier for people to comment since they haven’t exhausted themselves reading a 1000+ word post. So, without further delay, here’s the first “Quickie”!

The other day I was lurking around Facebook when I saw a quote on my timeline from a site called BlackCelibacy.com. “Intriguing,” I thought to myself and I didn’t delay in looking it up. BlackCelibacy.com is a dating site for celibate black singles created so that they could, “Meet other like minded Black singles online for FREE without the pressure of SEX!!” (I didn’t add the all caps or exclamation points, those actually exist on the site.) The site’s focus scripture is Proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and receives favor from the Lord.” I stared at this verse curiously, wondering why, of all of the verses they could have used, they decided on this one. There is a particular political weight that this Scripture carries in the Christian singles community, black or otherwise. So I wondered, “Why this verse?” I wondered if, when a woman joins the site, she is prohibited from contacting men and can only engage with the men who engage her first.

Upon visiting BlackCelibacy’s “About Us” section I discovered another curious matter, their “Top 10 Reasons for Being Celibate”:

10 Benefits of being Celibate:
1. When you are celibate, you are doing God’s will.
2. Celibate people don’t have to worry about contracting STD’s.
3. When you are celibate, you don’t have to worry about unwanted pregnancies.
4. When you are celibate, you can focus more on your goals.
5. When you are celibate, you don’t have to worry about any bad sexual experiences.
6. When you are celibate and dating, you know whether you want to enter a relationship.
7. When you are celibate, it becomes clear that true love isn’t limited to physical relationships.
8. When you are celibate, you limit the unwanted emotional baggage.
9. When you are celibate and dating, your partner will often time trust you more.
10. When you are celibate, you get to explore a different kind of feeling of self worth, empowerment and individuality.

There’s so much I could say about this list but since this post is a quickie, I will withhold. Maybe I will take these up in a series on celibacy on the blog, but, for now, I want to hear from the readers. What do you think of this list? If you are celibate, are these the reasons why you are? If you aren’t celibate, how do you feel about this list? Do you think that BlackCelibacy.com doth protest too much?

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Lark News and Abstinence in Marriage

Earlier today a friend shared a news story with me about a Christian couple who, after abstaining from sex for the 14-months of their relationship prior to their wedding, decided to remain abstinent during marriage. My first thought was, “Why?” This sentiment was shared by many others who were in the room and saw the article. “Why?” “That’s crazy!” “They must not want children.” Those were some of the responses the story yielded. I asked my friend to send it to me because I just knew it was something I needed to write about but I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say. Well it turns out that I have a few things to say concerning this matter. So let’s get to it.

First off, the Christian couple in question, Jon and Darla Crocker, are a fictional couple created by online comedy news site Lark News which satirizes Christian culture, specifically evangelical Christian culture. The story originally appeared on Lark News in September 2012 and has been making its rounds again for reasons that I’m not sure of. What is interesting to me about this story is people’s reactions. It seems that most people believe the story is true, which I can understand if you are looking at it from a stereotypically Evangelical Christian perspective.

Here you have a Christian couple practicing abstinence, a practice that is fairly common among pre-marriage Evangelical Christian couples–with varying degrees of what defines one as abstinent because I have known couples who swore off french-kissing before marriage because its potential to arouse while other couples consider everything except for sex to be permissible. But just when you expect them to break their pledge because they’ve taken their vows, this couple reversed the trend and decided to remain abstinent. When I read this, despite the fact that the story documented the couple remaining abstinent in marriage, it wasn’t shocking to me. Yes I wondered why they were doing it, but I never questioned their truth. Of course it is possible that this couple who dedicated themselves to abstinence before marriage have decided that they wanted to remain so in marriage. I understood it on the grounds of being someone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in churches that have only given me sex-negative education. I went through a “True Love Waits” campaign in high school and subsequently broke my ring in both the literal and figurative sense. I have sat through plenty of sermons about the dangers of having sex before marriage and how, even if I slept with my betrothed, my relationship would go up in flames because it is now being driven by “the flesh.” I have spoken to married people who, though sexually active within marriage, find it difficult to erase the sex-negative teachings of the church out of their consciousness. So given all of this it isn’t too far-fetched that I would believe a story about a couple who chooses to stay abstinent after the wedding day and two years into marriage.

I admit that it is sad that I could believe a story like this because of what I view as the church’s overwhelmingly pessimistic view of sex for anyone who isn’t already married or on the way to being married. I admit that there are churches that have sex-positive teachings–though I’ve never been to one of those churches. I’m concerned about what it means to believe a story like this before I am doubt it. But I am also slightly challenged by it.

After I moved away from the crowd during my first look at the story and away from the screen on my second look I wondered, “What could be so wrong if this was actually the case?” As someone who desires to do work in sexual ethics in the theoretical realm an academic and practically as a sexuality educator, it occurred to me that it was necessary to engage the question from an unconventional perspective. What if abstaining in marriage is right for these people for reasons unbeknownst to us? What if this is a form of justice for these two people and it is not a matter of their being so heavily indoctrinated by the church to believe that sex is negative, but they are acting against the world which has made sex necessary by any means? Now do not misunderstand me when I say this, I do know that there are scriptural claims–Godly demands even–for sex within covenant relationships and narratives about sex outside of covenant relationships, but I also believe that there is a possibility that the revelation of God might also lead two people to abstain for a time–or forever–within marriage. And there is scriptural claim for even that. So what if that is the case? How does that change our response to a story like this? We can become so used to claiming our right to sex that we forget that there are people who view sex as such a privilege that they can’t enter into it lightly, even within marriage.

I’m going to end this abruptly just because I don’t know how to end it otherwise. I took the time to write about this because this has resonated with me in a particular way and reminds me of the work that I have ahead of me as, prayerfully, a doctoral student and as a future sexuality educator. Stories like this remind me of my passion for the people that the church has miseducated regarding sex and it convicts me not to get so swallowed up in our culture’s dominant narrative and assessment of sex that I forget about my tradition’s views, both the harmful and helpful perspectives.

If you’ve made it this far in the post I’d love to hear your thoughts. Could you ever be pro-abstinence in marriage even temporarily? Could you believe such a story about an abstinent couple if you heard it? What has the church taught you about sex that you find helpful or harmful? Let’s talk about sex.

Defending Descent: On Cinematic Rape and Retribution

Disclaimer: One, the conclusion of Descent starring Rosario Dawson is given away here so if you’d prefer not to have this spoiler you may look away now, but I encourage you stay for it is that conclusion which paves the way for my broader analysis. Two, this blog touches on the topic of rape which may be touchy subject for some because of their direct or indirect experience. Please know that I write this as a woman has not directly or indirectly experienced rape in reality but only through cinema. If you have experienced it, I’d encourage you–if you can–to stay and read along and add voice to this discussion so that it may be full and not lacking in perspective. Thank you for reading.

This weekend I watched a man get raped by another man and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was in a film entitled Descent in which Rosario Dawson plays a college woman who gets raped by a man whom she thought was a potential suitor and exacts revenge by planning for the perpetrator to get raped by another man. I watched the film with a close male friend whom, during the rape scene between the two men, turned  to look at me a several times and each time my eyes were glued to the screen. He couldn’t draw my attention away from it. It was 10 minutes of violent thrusting, name-calling, and shaming and I could not be moved to either talk about how excessive it might have been or turn it off all together. After the film was over I sat on my couch in silence with my eyes still hooked on the television screen. My heart was beating quickly and my mind was running a million miles per minute. My friend commented on how excessive he thought the rape scene was and all I could remember saying is that it made sense. He repeated that he felt it was excessive for the film and still I repeated, “It makes sense.” My logic throughout the 10 minute rape scene and in conversation with my friend was that for decades we have watched women get raped in film and on television. I watched Kristy Swanson’s character Kristen get raped in John Singleton’s college campus drama Higher Learning. In the second season of a Different World Freddie Brooks almost gets raped by her date Garth Parks. I watched Buffy almost get raped by Spike. In Gossip Girl I watched Chuck Bass attempt to rape two women in one episode. In For Colored Girls Only, Yasmine/Yellow gets raped by a man whom she thought was a potential suitor. There is the rape scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange which is edited out in most versions. I also hear that there is a rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in which the main female character gets raped through sodomy. When I saw each of these movies or television shows I didn’t anticipate having to sit through a rape scene, but alas I did. And sadly, these movies don’t add up to even half of the movies with rape scenes in them.

Countless are the movies and television shows in which women get raped or are in another way sexually assaulted. As a woman, I am almost too used seeing other women get defiled in the media either through the dramatic portrayal of rape, sexual assault, or through the popular coerced or voluntary objectification of women in music videos. But when I watched the rape revenge in Descent I felt something. Maybe it was redemption for all the years of women being raped in cinema and real life. To be clear, I don’t believe in this type of personal retributive justice, because in the end it most likely will not resolve anything. This is illustrated in Descent‘s final scene as Dawson turns toward the man raping her assailant and, with tears in her eyes, silently conveys that this is no revenge at all. One reviewer of the movie, called it a demagogic feminist exploitation revenge drama, but to do so is to misunderstand the project of feminism which is not employed well in this film. For it to be a true demagogic feminist exploitation revenge, the movie would not end with the man in power but would end with Dawson’s character reclaiming herself. I believe the true feminist revenge is to not let rape define and shape you into anything other than a woman who reclaims herself–but maybe I have just been reading too much Camille Paglia and the movie does indeed represent feminist revenge.

But,lest I get too far away from my original point,  I do think watching that scene, unwilling to turn my eyes away from it, made me much more certain that personal retributive justice is not what I believe in. I derived no pleasure from the scene but in refusing to take my eyes off of it, even when my friend tried to divert me, was me implicitly saying, “Sit through this, get comfortable with it,” because I have gotten comfortable with rape over the years. And yes, I admit that is part of this, that I wanted a male to sit through a scene of another male getting raped without averting his gaze, I wanted him to be comfortable with it. The day after I asked my friend if his maleness affected his ability to accept the prolonged rape scene to which he said it didn’t, he just believes that it was excessive in film and not right in reality. We also had a conversation about the possibility of females being a little more open to watching it unhindered because it could serve as cinematic redemption to the pervasive rape culture. We have no answer to the aforementioned query. So maybe my reaction was my own and not representative of what many women might find agreeable, but I am curious to know if there are any women or men out there who may find this type of revenge dramatically portrayed helpful or harmful to rape culture as we know it? If you have seen Descent what might you suggest as an alternative ending? If you are a feminist or a womanist–because I can’t neglect that a part of this film was the power dynamic between this white man and Dawson’s “ethnically ambiguous” self which he insulted during the rape–what is your response to this film? And, generally speaking, what do we make of the rape in cinema, its prevalence, its portrayal of the act, the power dynamic, etc?