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.

Comments

  1. Hello, I stumbled across your article while trying to figure out if the Lark source was legit or fake, and I’m glad I did. Thank you for taking the time to write out your thoughts and share your wrestling.

    As a recently married (2 years) product of the evangelical Christian doctrine, I resonate with the sex-negative experience. Thankfully I had parents that were more sex-positive, but it definitely left an impact on my wife and me–adding bedroom challenges we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. After having spent so much of our lives trying to repress our sexuality, suddenly having it not only be okay, but encouraged in the span of 2 words (“I do”) was jarring. I’ve now learned that this is typical of evangelical Christian newly-weds, and it has left me thinking about how to help our own kids avoid these struggles.

    But anyway, enough background, back to your question… 🙂 My first reaction to the article was, “What? Seriously? I appreciate the spirit of that choice, but this won’t end well.” About that last part, in my experience sex has proven critically important to healthy martial emotional bonding. When things are going well in the bedroom, everything outside goes better too–fewer arguments, more laughter, more emotional connections, feeling more supported, etc.Our relationship just works the best.

    As to your question about whether I could be pro-abstinence, I think I could given the proper context. For example, if one or the other partner has been a victim of sexual violence or direct objectification in their past and struggles with feeling valued as a human being, not just a sexual object, then I could see a short period of mutually-agreed abstinence being a loving way to honor that past experience and build a foundation of trust and value.

    Sex is intended to be a good wonderful thing that binds two people together emotionally. If it ever becomes a negative or damaging force in a relationship (such as a weapon or an object of manipulation), then I think it can be a good idea to take a break and resolve the problem. Once the issue is dealt with, then tenderly and lovingly re-engaging in sex in a positive, affirming way can be a wonderfully healing experience.

    So I’ve written much more than I thought I would, and I could probably write more. 🙂 I’m curious in your thoughts as well, especially since at this point we’re total strangers. lol. Thanks for writing such an engaging post!

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  2. Hi, interesting post you have here. Here’s my thought; When I read the story, what cross my mind is “so what?”.

    People have their own thoghts, feelings, activities, and more. So, having some people have different decision is not so surprising to me especially like this case. I don’t think it’s severe enough. The worst might be when they decide that even children resulting from their relationship to be sins in form. Or that sex is bad altogether and scorn all kind of sex and people having sex, or even the relationship which will include sex that is their own marriage. Or even their parrents, and the worst theirselves.

    In ethic subject in university, I learned that what you explained is something called emotional bind (if I’m not mistaken in phrasing it as I learned it not in english).

    The worst thing is that’s what most religion teaches. Excessive bad thing about sex, while the clergy (or similar) mostly lacking in knowledge and experience about sex since they was taught the same thing. They mostly only know the way of the pure (as if it’s pure, who knows which teaching is pure or not), not the way of life. Or they know only one way of life -the way the religion thaught- and call the others bad.

    Sex is one of the ways to love. You may or may not do it a lot. The point to understand is that sex is deeper than most others involving closeness physically and emotionally. And that you shouldn’t do it recklessly since doing it might have implications (such as pregnancy and disease) that might follow you for life.

    So, be wise and don’t rush. Better be loving couple than sex couple, but not because you think that sex is bad. But understand that sex is not the only way to love and that understanding each other is deeper than sex. Knowing that not have sex doesn’t mean you are loving each other less.

    And don’t use this sentences just to justify or blame your own way of life. There are more to life including sex than I can tell you.

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  3. Hi, interesting post you have here. Here’s my thought; When I read the story, what cross my mind is “so what?”.

    People have their own thoghts, feelings, activities, and more. So, having some people have different decision is not so surprising to me especially like this case. I don’t think it’s severe enough. The worst might be when they decide that even children resulting from their relationship to be sins in form. Or that sex is bad altogether and scorn all kind of sex and people having sex, or even the relationship which will include sex that is their own marriage. Or even their parrents, and the worst theirselves.

    In ethic subject in university, I learned that what you explained is something called emotional bind (if I’m not mistaken in phrasing it as I learned it not in english).

    The worst thing is that’s what most religion teaches. Excessive bad thing about sex, while the clergy (or similar) mostly lacking in knowledge and experience about sex since they was taught the same thing. They mostly only know the way of the pure (as if it’s pure, who knows which teaching is pure or not), not the way of life. Or they know only one way of life -the way the religion thaught- and call the others bad.

    Sex is one of the ways to love. We may or may not do it. The point to understand is that sex is deeper than most others involving closeness physically and emotionally. And that we shouldn’t do it recklessly since doing it might have implications (such as pregnancy and disease) that might follow us for life.

    So, be wise and don’t rush. Better be loving couple than sex couple, but not because we think that sex is bad. But understand that sex is not the only way to love and that understanding each other is deeper than sex. Knowing that not have sex doesn’t mean we are loving each other less.

    And don’t use this sentences just to justify or blame our own way of life. There are more to life including sex than anyone can tell us.

    Like

  4. At first glance, I gave this credit as being legitimate. I believe my initial response was, “They do know how procreation works…right?” It’s somewhat telling that two posts out of 80 on the Facebook link I saw called this article for the satire it is. It is as credible as the opposite extreme of couples marrying for the tax benefits and keeping the relationship’ open,’ sadly. (I do, in fact, personally know an example of the second extreme.)

    As a mother whose oldest daughter is just a couple of years away from puberty, I’ve been sensitive to the messages society pushes regarding sex. There are two HUGE lies society tells about sex. From the secular world we hear that sex is no big deal, that everybody does it, that there’s something wrong with you if you’re not having sex and at the very same time girls especially are supposed to be ‘hard to get’ because the acknowledgment of having had sex makes a girl a slut. (That contradiction makes my head hurt, and it’s only the beginning.) From the religious establishment we hear that to violate your inborn purity by having sex inappropriately you’ve committed the ultimate, unrecoverable sin, that as a woman you are suddenly devoid of all value to God and any man worthy of your love… despite the message of redemption found in Christ’s sacrifice. If God can forgive murderers, adulterers, thieves, and all manner of other sin then the idea that having sex (shocked gasp!) is somehow the one thing God cannot forgive is simply ludicrous.

    Having been raised by a teen who bought into the ‘sex is no big deal’ message-probably as a direct rebellion against her parent’s very Catholic stance on purity before marriage-I was scarred early by the consequences of disregarding the value of sex as a beautiful and intimate thing. Until I met my husband, it was dirty and shameful. Not for any religious reason. Simply because I had only ever seen it used as an act of selfishness at best and as a weapon at worst. Some of those prejudices still linger even after 12 years of happy, fruitful marriage.

    As a mother, I find myself trying to instill in my daughter a value for the beauty and intimacy sex can bring yet simultaneously defying the idea that her value as a beautiful, brilliant, and talented young woman is tied to or defined by her sexual activity or sexuality. I hope that my example and teaching is enough to offset the lies of society. Only time can tell whether or not she’s heard me… and listened.

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  5. I just ran across this post after seeing a reference to this couple on another site, and having never heard of The Lark, I’m glad to know it’s a satire site.

    As a teenager, I went to a strict evangelical church that had a large youth group. It was very much part of the sex-negative culture. We even had guidelines concerning how far apart dating couples should sit when sitting together. Even holding hands was taboo. It backfired in the long run. The vast majority of the people in the youth group at that time no longer attend that church, and quite a few attend no church at all. I left during my senior year of high school to attend a smaller church that was even stricter in some areas, but emphasized a more personal relationship with God. No one freaked out if two teenagers sat within a foot of each other or even held hands, even though abstinence before marriage was both expected and taught.

    I was 28 when I met my now-husband. Not long after we started dating, we sat down and talked about our own convictions and decided that we would refrain from anything beyond hand-holding or an occasional hug until we were married. Our first kiss was during our wedding. It worked for us, but it needed to be a personal decision and not one that was forced upon us. The physical relationship was worth the wait.

    That said, no, I don’t agree with celibacy after marriage, and I feel that Scripture even teaches against it. 1 Corinthians 7:5 states that it should be for a limited time and with the consent of both spouses for a time of prayer and fasting. I can understand health issues, but to just decide on abstinence goes against the very purpose of marriage.

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  6. This article and the comments have been very enlightening for me – forcing me to seriously look at my perception of sex and sexuality in ways that I hadn’t before. I’m a 21yo single mom of a little girl, and I’m currently being courted by a pastor. Coming from a Christian home I was expected to remain abstinent till marriage, and my pregnancy was shocking to my family. But being Christians they fully believe in grace and redemption, and there was never a moment where I wasn’t supported or made to feel loved.
    The thing is, even after I got pregnant, my mom still couldn’t talk to me about sex. The closest thing to ‘The Talk’ I ever got was when I was seven and she told me not to let anyone put their hand up my skirt. It led to A LOT of confusion in my teens about what I could and should not do, and the ‘SEX IS FILTHY and it reduces your value as a woman because that’s all men want!’ message in youth church didn’t help anything. If it was all men wanted, and I wanted men to want me, what was I to do?
    It was a slippery slope from kissing to petting to oral sex, and once I did that I felt filthy and beyond redemption, so I figured I might as well continue. And I was too ashamed of myself to ask for help until I got pregnant.

    Fast forward to now. I thought I had sorted out my sexuality until I started dating this pastor and I was horrified and embarrassed when he made amorous advances toward me. I thought my lasciviousness (what a word haha) was somehow rubbing off on him and I was defiling him. This despite the fact that HE was the one making advances, not me. I should clarify that he wasn’t trying to sleep with me – kissing, hugging, a tender caress on the shoulder or hip, all things that I had no problem doing with ‘regular’ men. I felt as a pastor he should not have such desires. It caused a huge row and we broke up.
    I had to talk to someone else about things, and she pointed out to me that it was perfectly normal for a man who loves me to be attracted to me, and pastor or not, he was still a man. I had a very hard time coming to terms with it, and still struggle to remember that I am not defiling and drawing a man away from God simply by inspiring a normal emotional/physical desire in him.

    I know I have completely missed the point but I wanted to share how the sex-negative message affected me. I hope you keep writing this blog – I am looking for any and all resources that will help me instill the right perspective on sex in my daughter and other children. God bless you!

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    • I just want to reassure you that you haven’t miss the point. I appreciate you sharing what it has been like to grow up with a sex-negative perspective on sex. I thank you for reading this post and for considering it as it relates to your life. Some of the things you have described are things that I have struggled with. In the next few weeks I will be posting more often–as I just graduated from a seminary–so I hope that you will find more resources for your daughter here. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to let me know.

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  7. A lot of people just aren’t interested in sex. Asexual, gray asexual, and demisexual people can have loving, happy romantic partnerships that don’t involve sex or don’t involve a lot of sex. It’s pretty common.

    I realized the article was fake after the first few paragraphs (“whole, raw potato”, anyone?) but before I read that line I figured they were probably on the asexuality spectrum and they were lucky to have found a compatible partnership that also included a strong, shared faith.

    It’s actually a pretty sweet fake story.

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  8. Great response to the article and I think you’d be a very thoughtful and progressive educator! Initially, I too believed the story to be true! I agree with you, in the sense of them having a strong faith, that this story came across as believable. However, not in a positive way but in a way that made me feel sad for them. Here’s my thought process- I’m Muslim but the majority of my family is Christian and growing up I heard from both faiths how having sex before marriage yielded such negative realities! I feel that society, in a religious context, has put such emphasis on sexuality and expressing sexual desire that many young people and adults struggle to fully enjoy the action unless they’re married. Unless of course you throw it all to wind and go against the grain. Though sometimes after marriage it can be difficult to switch gears and look at sex and intimacy in a positve manner. I remember when I lost my virginity, I cried for days because I was afraid that my family would disown me and I’d go to hell! The funny thing is I was 20 years old and lost my virginity because of peer pressure and wanted to be seen as normal! Though the stress that my family, friends and the religious community put on me I felt I snapped. This is a great topic for adolescents and young adults because there shouldn’t be shame placed on having sex or abstaining. I feel what is important is understanding that your body is your own private business and if one wants to share prior to marriage or wait until marriage it should be a personal choice!

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  9. I am a pastor and I agree we have done the world a dis-service with the “sex is bad” message. I Corinthians 7:5 says “Do not withhold yourselves from each other unless you agree to do so just for a set time, in order to devote yourselves to prayer. Then you should come together again”

    My opinion is that many church goers have some kind of idea that the devil designed sex organs and pleasure in an evil lab in hell and it was all his idea.

    Whose idea was it to create sex organs with millions of nerve endings that result in a pleasurable experience? Who created an orgasm? Like it or not, it was God’s idea.

    The world says sex is a pleasure to be taken. God says sex is a gift to be given.

    The world says sex is good – go take what you can get from whoever you can get it from.

    God says – “No, they have it all wrong. Sex is way better than what they say, the gift of your sexuality is something so precious that the only way it should be shared is when a man and woman promise to give their lives and devotion to one another forever in marriage.”

    The chemical reaction in a man’s brain to sexual images released endorphins similar to that of some drugs. We have cheapened this with porn and “take what you can get” sexuality when the way it was designed was I abstain and wait until my wedding night with my wife and an almost addictive bond is created. Created with and for whom? My wife.

    It is beautiful and powerful beyond what we have understood. You and the gift of your sexuality are more valuable and precious than you know.

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  10. I really wish the “abstinence couple” was real. In fact, I wish all christians would practice abstinence…it sounds so holy. Actually, if ALL religious people practiced abstinence, very soon the world would be a much more peaceful, reasonable, intelligent, happy place. So…all you religitards: please stop fucking?!? For world PEACE!!!

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  11. My wife and I are experimenting with abstinence. The marriage is cold to be honest. Sex was crap. Cold and mechanical and I felt like she was just doing it as a duty. We have seen councillors and that has been a waste of time and money as in general they tend to pussy foot around. The current person has challenged us to try something. Imagine we are not married but dating. What were the rules then. You know there was uncertainty about whether she was in love with me so I had to impress her. being Christians, sex was totally not happening. yet we were more in love. We hugged, kissed tentatively and gently, held hands, dressed to impress and so on. So we are trying this. Zero sex and actually no kissing, no nothing even separate bed rooms for a month – then ask the other for permission to kiss. Holding hands and so on. You know it is insanely hard (in more ways than one). I am spending all day thinking about my wife. I have bought her flowers. Done lots of extra house work. So one effect of sexual abstinence is focussing on her. From her perspective the pressure to acquis to sex is gone. I sure want it as always but she knows she will not haveto give it. So the flowers and things have more of a love and lightness about them. She is starting to smile again so even though I don’t know what she is thinking I am hoping that one day she will *want* to have sex.

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  12. It’s going around again. I feel it is a legitimate choice if both want it, but wonder why they would want it.

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  13. I believed the news when I first read it; Fundies play such games with cherry-picking the Bible that it seemed quite possible.
    Yes, my first thought was “Why?” – but then I thought they probably both gay and dare not come out. Also not unlikely, but very sad.

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  14. Honestly believed it for about 10 seconds until I got to the “raw potato” part. Thought it was silly. Knowing it’s satire I never would have come at it from this angle. Thanks for your words

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