Chastity

When Chastity isn’t really A Thing any more, that control has to go somewhere by Will Ringland

Purity Culture is Perfection Expectation

I’ve been reading about Purity culture in religion lately as an attempt to describe a phenomenon I see in myself I’ve been calling “perfection expectation”. I’ll describe Purity Culture and how I think it relate.

Purity Culture

In a but shell, purity culture is the belief that people, women especially, must be morally and sexually pure to be worth anything to society. It’s an old puritanical (and misogynistic) ideal stemming from women as chattel used as leverage for a family to gain status, property, wealth, or all three. If a woman was not pure, it was harder to marry her off.

It takes a different form today, sorta... Women aren’t directly traded for property in marriage in America. Mostly..

Look, it’s hard to speak in absolutes because bullshit practices like this do still happen in even “modern” countries like America.

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Here is a quote from a recent book written on Modesty that captures the expectations for purity in women today.

A lot of girls get mad when guys treat them too sexually. When guys call them names, or make rude advances, or say nasty stuff to them, they get all in a huff. “How could he talk to me like that? What does he think I am, a piece of meat?” And the answer is yes. That’s exactly what he thinks you are because that’s how you’ve marketed yourself. The sign in front of your establishment screams “sex.” The banner on your ad yells “use me.” Guys’ eyes become clouded by the flesh, and they lose all sight of the girl inside that flesh. So if you show off parts of you that turn guys on, don’t blame them for your PR campaign. You designed it and created the image you wanted to sell to the world, and they’re just hoping to get a chance to purchase or steal a piece of you. Sexy Girls: How Hot is too Hot by Hayley Dimarco

Not only are women expected to control their own sexuality but they are also expected to control that of those around them, namely men, without turning people completely off.

Standards - double and otherwise

The double standard created is that women can’t be overtly sexual but should still be comfortable, but not too comfortable, and they should defer to outside judgment, but not too much, because you have to be liked, but not too much because you don’t want to look slutty....

The expression of this culture is not limited to controlling women’s sexuality, though the results of this are especially insidious. Purity culture affects much of the expectations people hold for us, not just about sexuality.

Perfection expectation

The underlying expectation of Purity Culture as it has translated into a modern world where sexual expression is FAR less controlled, in comparison to the Puritanical era, is that we are required to be perfect forever and always. At no time can we ever do something wrong and if we do, that’d it. We are sullied and are completely irretrievable. You’ll amount to nothing if you can’t do A Thing like a pro from the start.

This is especially visible in politics when a person screws up. Note that I am not going to continue talking about sexual misconduct because that’s very different and much more serious.

Consider the 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry’s 2004 campaign was brutal. Do you remember the prominent of the term “flip-flop” from the campaign? Kerry’s inconsistent stance on the Iraq war absolutely destroyed him.

"I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it."

While what he meant has merit - initial versions of the bill paid for the war in one method with which he agreed, and later versions after the reconciliation process paid for it in ways with which her disagreed - the fact that an apparent change in view can destroy his career because the US expects a person to be perfectly consistent is ludicrous.

Last I checked, I was only human

Unequivocally: it is ridiculous to think that a person cannot or should not change. We cannot expect a person to exist, full formed, from the day they become an adult, which is itself an arbitrary concept. People is people and it is ok to change opinions or ideas. The thought that change is some sort of weakness in character is toxic to human advancement. The premise of our Virtue Projects is that we can get better with a systematic approach to growth.

A dedicated, intentional approach allows us to clearly and directly engage in in self-development is the first step in a long journey to change expectations and views on morality in America.

Be deliberate in your change

Perhaps, in the end, that’s what really torpedoed Kerry’s campaign in 2004. It’s less that he changed his opinions but that he didn’t acknowledge what happened to change his position on this thing. The excruciatingly messed up political dialog in America aside, trying to hide or minimize out growth is disingenuous at best. Our initials reaction to be questioned on change is defensiveness.

“I didn’t change. I’ve always believed this. I am perfect and you are awful for thinking I’m not.”

Building systems to guide our change, to grow into the people we want to be, makes addressing these questions all the more easy. “I changed because I reflected on it and decided Temperance (or resolve or order or justice) is more important than [blank]. Fill in what you will but it’s hard to argue with a person that takes a stance on as thing different from before if they can succinctly point to the method of their change.

The Virtue project gives us power over not only ourselves but the way culture interacts with us. We have more power if we understand ourselves, how we got here, and out place in the world.

Chastity doesn't mean you can't like or want sex. by Will Ringland

Look, I don't know about you but I am terrible at asking for what I want.  And it is especially hard with sex and love.  But you don't get better at things you ignore. So: let's get uncomfortably close to an explicit conversation about my sex life, yeah?  Happy Friday! 

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Moral Relativism by Will Ringland

Chastity is sexual behavior of a man or woman that is acceptable to the moral standards and guidelines of their culture, civilization or religion. In the Western world, the term has become closely associated (and is often used interchangeably) with sexual abstinence, especially before marriage (1).

I don't have a problem with chastity conceptually. I believe that people who willingly explore their own needs and desires and relationship to sex, love, fidelity, marriage, and what have you, that choosing to be chaste as defined above is fine. I do, however, have aproblem with chastity as defined by moral standards.

When I say "moral standards" what I mean is Moral Relativism. Moral relativism is the idea that our notion of right and wrong stems from our surrounding society. Americans think it is wrong for women to be topless (generally). The French do not (generally). The act itself does not contain rightness or wrongness, that attribution comes from outside. Moral relativism is the default state, that you will take society's standards of right and wrong behavior as your own when unexamined.

"History is written by the victors." - Winston Churchill

Not only do the winners write the history books but they craft the vision of themselves after victory. The dominant culture which continues on to rebuild society? The winners? They define morality. Ideals like chastity are founded on a Puritanical dogma that teaches original sin as the root of all human suffering. In effect, women cannot be trusted and should be controlled because their lack of subservience to god and Adam got humankind cast out of paradise. This is where Franklin built his list of morals.

The dominant culture defines your morals. Franklin was at least trying to be aware of what unchaste behavior could do to a person's status in society. In his Advice on taking a Mistress he acknowledges that take someone's virginity could cause undue harm to their reputation. This makes him more progressive than your average person at the time for sure but he still held that the import of chastity resided in the perceived impropriety of society. This is still a moral relativism (2).

When you begin a project as nebulous as "moral perfection" it makes sense that you start from somewhere. Franklin started with what he saw in society. I started with his morals. It seems like, after exploring these morals, it requires some additional examination to understand better and I've been struggling find that re-examination. Franklin's subsequent writing didn't really show he did much more than draw black marks on his tablets for years. He never looked at his set of morals and asked, "Are these right for me?"





  1. From wikipedia, accessed on March 21st, 2015. http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chastity

  2. Moral relativism is the default state, the place where we have to begin when trying to understand ourselves. It wasn't until I got to chastity that I recognized how differently I approach some of the morals Franklin chose. And, really, I think he had a problem with some of them as well but didn't, it seems, consider it much further.

How Not to Chastity by Will Ringland

If you will not take this Counsel, and persist in thinking a Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones.

The Letter, or maybe treatise, "Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress" is regarded as one of Franklin's more humorous writings. Ostensibly written to a friend, Cadwallader Colden, it details the benefits of taking an older woman as a mistress over a younger woman. Among the 8 reasons, this one is my favorite (1):

Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.

This is wish fulfillment on Franklin's part. By his own decree, Chastity is about sex only for health and procreation. A post-menopausal woman means sex without consequences. I find that kind of an interesting way around his own edicts towards betterment.

In a grander sense, creating for yourself standards and rules that don't jive with who you are seems a silly exercise. Partly because it becomes increasingly unlikely that you'll achieve your goals - flailing into the ether, consciously or unconsciously, against your own desires. Mostly because doing so is no way to increase one's happiness, let alone one's moral perfection (3).

It's possible, written at the age of 40, Franklin had abandoned his project and this was fatherly advice to a friend, something he certainly doled out… religiously to his friends. And in tis advice, in fact, intimating that sleeping with an older mistress "Because the Sin is less" than debauching a virgin for the way that ruined young girl's lives.

In that nugget, at least, some acknowledgement of the sexist nature of virginity as a commodity but the letter otherwise, while praising some traits of an older woman, undercuts most of said praise with what amounts to a collegiate boy tittering about an ill-reputed conquest. "…regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one" this positive comparison achieved after "covering all above [the oder woman]with a Basket."

I fear this sort of objectification and commoditization was normal and that Franklin acknowledging the good of older women would be considered the radical thinking. In that, there's is some benefit, even of you have to throw out the rest.

This is to say that Chastity or Chasteness stems from a deeply religious and oft blatantly sexist religious roots. A woman is expected to remain chaste and pure for her future husband where men have no such compunction. And any trysts result in the besmirching of the lady's honor and a light swat of the man who effectively ruined the girl's life. Sex is not so powerful nor should it be something considered so much more sacred than the life to which you attach virginity.

All of this is to say that denying ourselves - either Franklin pantomiming chasteness or society championing Puritanical denial of pretty much anything fun - is a quick way to unhappiness. If we believe that all human pursuits are intended to bring us some sort of happiness - either in tis life or another ever after in accordance with your beliefs - then acting so thoroughly against understanding ourselves can only result in broken promises.





  1. When we're talking about Chastity. Much of the letter is a little… sexist. Maybe good natured sexism, like respectful sexism (2)?

  2. This is not a thing. I'm not being serious. The letter is sexist.

  3. The latter being the stated goal for Franklin's project which was likely an indirect way of getting to the former.

Chastity by Will Ringland

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Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.

This is probably going to be far less salacious than you want it to be.

Franklin has a reputation as a womanizer and lech. He, famously, sired an illegitimate son some time around 1730 while working in Philadelphia before he married is wife, Deborah. Speculation abounds as to who the moth is but no conclusive evidence exists. Two leading theories are that his mother was a maid Franklin employed or that he and Deborah conceived out of wedlock.

Really, aside from this, there's little evidence that Franklin had anything but numerous love affairs with many women over his life. And love is not sex. I believe that Franklin was very likely sexually monogamous with his wife, Deborah, while still freely loving and flirting all the women he famously had "affairs" with (1).

And I think this is an important distinction - love versus sex. Chastity as a virtue, classically part of the pantheon of cardinal virtues and placed diametrically opposed to lust, regards sex and sexual expression within the bounds of marriage. Chaste love, according to most Catholic traditions, includes sex within marriage. Roman Catholic traditions further clarify chaste love as love for procreation, that without contraception. The LDS Church (2) takes it a little further to include any non-procreative sexual activity and deems masturbation and sexually provocative thoughts as unchaste.

At no point do these views consider love a part of chastity. Or marriage, really. Love is much less important, historically, than sexual fidelity as marriages were often unions of convenience or wealth. Doweries (3) were exchanged and statuses were upgraded and love may not have entered much into it. So, let us set aside love in discussions of chastity.

Franklin's definition for Chastity only mentions "venery" which is defined as "sexual indulgence." He suggests not having any sexual relation that is not healthy. Which is delightfully vague - what is a "healthy" amount of sex? Your sexual appetite is likely different than mine which is likely different from your neighbor which is likely different from Franklin's own appetite. So are we saying that sex is only so useful insofar as it keeps us… fit (4)? Happy? Googly-eyed over our partner?

I think it is a legitimate concern if you're having so much sex that it leads to "Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation." The former requiring, likely, quite a bit of sex unless you're older (5) or really unfit or you're doing all the work (6). And I think it's more a function of American society that sex, of any quantity, can harm your reputation.

Oh? You're good at and enjoy sex? How dare you, sir, do something that is normal (7)!

Ok, so given colonial society constructs, Puritan views on sexual misconduct (8), I can similarly understand the desire to avoid impinging on other's reputation.

I guess, for myself, I will take Franklin's view on it. 1. Sex not to excess that exhausts your abilities or faculties. 2. Do not engage in sex that will harm another's reputation.

Considering that I just got married, I think I can probably only ruin my own reputation at this point but, I guess it's good to have goals?

  1. The most famous is with Catherine May Greene, previously mentioned when discussing Sincerity.
  2. Mormons have a the "Laws of Chastity" which are much more prohibative and, really, much harder to enforce.
  3. I give you two sheep for a wife?
  4. According to Men's Health magazine the average sexual act - from foreplay to climax - last 25 minutes and burns about 100 calories. 30 Minutes of treadmill running at average pace (10 minute miles) burns about 276 calories. A typical fast food hamburger, without cheese and condiments, is about 300 calories. So… your nooner has to last past the normal lunch break to account for the lunch you're not eating...
  5. Lord knows my back could be stronger and there's a lot of wrestling involved. Usually. Hopefully.
  6. Good on you. But if it bugs you, you should talk to your partner. Or buy a copy of the Sock Monkey Kama Sutra (affiliate link)
  7. My bias may be showing.
  8. Puritan laws n sexual deviance were pretty impressive. Many forms of sex considered "unclean" were punishable by death - sodomny, bestiality, rape, some adultery. More Colonial sexual conduct laws.