Messenger Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his girlfriend, the singer Ciara, recently announced plans to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. It was a vow that came as a surprise to many. After all, sexual purity is a commitment that is historically expected of, associated with — even demanded of — women.
However, sexual abstinence is not something assumed of men, especially men like Russell Wilson. Wilson, an accomplished, attractive athlete, embodies contemporary ideals of masculinity , which include style, wealth and, yes, sexual prowess. So how does a man like Russell Wilson navigate a commitment to abstinence while upholding ideals of masculinity?
And what does it mean for the women they date, and might eventually marry? While men make this commitment with the good intentions for a fulfilling marriage and sex life, my research indicates that the beliefs about sexuality and gender that come hand in hand with these pledges of abstinence do not necessarily make for an easy transition to a married sexual life. Here, Behar makes two assumptions. One is that sexual activity declines both with age and the time spent in a relationship. The second is that abstinence is not something you do before marriage.
For the most part, this is true as well: Most of the data that exist on this practice show that those who make the pledges will do so in high school, often by either signing a pledge card or donning a purity ring.
Research on this population tells us a few things: Furthermore, taking a virginity pledge will often encourage other types of sexual behavior. Virgins in Guyland But little is known about men who pledge and navigate this commitment to abstinence. I was curious about how men maintain pledges in light of these statistics, and also balance them with expectations about masculinity.
So in , I began researching a support group of 15 men at an Evangelical church in the Southwest. Rather, the men of The River approach sex as something sacred, a gift from God meant to be enjoyed in the confines of the marriage bed. And it is precisely because of these so-called beastly elements that these men find each other in the same space every week. The men of The River grappled with pornography use, masturbation, lust and same-sex desire, all of which can potentially derail these men from their pledge.
It raises an interesting dilemma: Yet the way they navigate this seeming contradiction actually allows them to exert their masculinity in line with the demands of Guyland. Group members had an elaborate network of accountability partners to help them resist temptations. The River, as a support group, works largely in the same way. Ciara, in discussing her commitment to abstinence with Russell Wilson, similarly added that she believes such a promise is important for creating a foundation of love and friendship.
In , I followed up with them. All but one had gotten married. Respondents reported that they still struggled with the beastly elements of sexuality.
They also had the added concern of extramarital affairs. Furthermore — and perhaps most importantly — men no longer had the support to work through these temptations. There were two reasons behind this development. First, respondents had been told, since they were young, that women were nonsexual.
At the same time, these men had also been taught that their wives would be available for their pleasure. These married men and women were not talking to each other about sex. Rather than freely discussing sex or temptation with their wives as they had done with their accountability partners , the men simply tried to suppress temptation by imagining the devastation any sexual deviations might cause their wives.
After marriage, the men felt left to their own devices. They had been promised a sacred gift: However, to open up about these continued struggles would be to admit failure as masculine, Christian man. In the end, the research indicates that a pledge of sexual abstinence works to uphold an ideal of masculinity that disadvantages both men and women.
After 25 years of being told that sex is something dangerous that needs to be controlled, the transition to married and sexual life is difficult, at best, while leaving men without the support they need. Women, meanwhile, are often left out of the conversation entirely. So when we urge abstinence in place of healthy conversations about sex and sexuality, we may be undermining the relationships that are the driving goal of these commitments in the first place.