The full article appears in the SAGE Handbook of Global Sexualities (available now).
Abstinence, whether temporary or lifelong, is a fascinating subject to most people because its practice has both detractors and admirers. The Catholic religion has elevated abstinence as a path to men’s and women’s higher, more spiritual nature. Traditionally, lust – or raw appetite not connected to procreative intentions – has been seen as sinful. Clergy must forego the pleasures of the flesh as part of their devotion to God. Purity of spirit is directly related to purity of body. In both Christianity and Islam, mainstream voices associate women’s social value with their ‘chaste’ character. Women’s virginity is often a requirement for marriage in Muslim societies; some communities even require ‘virginity tests’ at time of marriage to verify the woman’s premarital abstinence (Ahmadzai and Sadeghzadeh, 2017). Abstinence can also be valued for pragmatic reasons; certain countries in Africa endorse abstinence as a prophylactic measure to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission.
Critics of abstinence promotion consider abstinence an unnatural act. Judaism considers sexual intercourse a ‘mitzvah’ (a gift and fortunate deed). Many psychologists, medical professionals, and people in the natural sciences consider abstinence unnatural, even bizarre, since sexual intercourse is necessary for the species to replicate and usually necessary for personal and relationship satisfaction.
Whether one considers abstinence unnatural or not, dialogues on abstinence’s purpose and its presence throughout history hold interest for sexologists who seek to understand why it exists, who practices it, what it tells us about social control, and how it affects the lives of men, women, and society.
Our culture seems to think we can get over a bad break-up just by re-entering the dating pool. “Get back out there,” they say. “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone,” they say. But when has that ever been the case for matters of the heart? Relationships linger in our thoughts well after we say goodbye, and for most of us it’s actually a bad idea to jump back into another person’s arms (or bed) right after a break-up.
Of course, if you’re able to separate sex from emotional intimacy, hooking up with someone can be harmless. But when are you ready to actually date again?
#1 YOU AREN’T HUNG UP ON YOUR EX
One sign to pay attention to is how often you talk about your ex. If it has been weeks since you’ve spoken of or alluded to your ex, you’re probably moving on from him (yay!).
#2 YOU DON’T HATE BEING SINGLE
Some of us prefer to be in a relationship—which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you find yourself playing the role of a serial monogamist, it’s time to take a break and figure out why past relationships don’t seem to stick. Serial monogamists often feel uncomfortable being single, which can lead them to jump into new relationships without resolving the emotional baggage they are carrying from their last relationship. A general rule for anyone after a break-up is to wait until you’re comfortable being single before actively seeking a new partner.
It has become a true talent to know whether the guy you’re seeing is serious about dating you or just killing time. As with most innovations in dating culture, this has a good and a bad side to it. The good: you don’t have to prematurely jump into a relationship just to lock it down before someone else does. The bad: a lot of guys take advantage of the gray area between “friends” and “more than friends” just to keep a full social calendar.
Sooner or later though, you get tired of the chase. How many dates can you go on without a clue as to where things may—or may not—be heading? If you’re to believe TV dating tropes, three dates is the benchmark, or at least that’s when sex is supposed to occur (if not earlier). But what if sex hasn’t happened yet and it’s date number six? Or, what if sex has happened but you can’t get a read on how he feels? You still like the guy, but according to all your friends (both real and imaginary), he probably isn’t as into you as you are into him.
Is this where modern daters are stuck? We either have to bench a guy for not being interested enough or be his bench warmer until he finds someone better.
The dating market is becoming increasingly demanding of its participants. We can’t text back right away in fear of looking desperate (“I don’t want him to think I’m alllllways available”). Are we friends with benefits or just prolonging a bad match with good sex? And now, we need a dictionary for all the tech-jargon that people use on dating apps.
Luckily for you, I study this stuff and I’m here to break down 2018’s most memorable additions to the modern dater’s lexicon. Let’s start reading:
To reject someone in a very subtle, usually protracted way (e.g., “He says he wants to hang out but always has a convenient excuse to get out of it”).
Pretty self-explanatory, DTR stands for “define the relationship”. Some of us just call it “the talk,” but hipsters love acronyms, so DTR it is.
Are you even a Millennial if you haven’t been ghosted? Ghosting is shorthand for suddenly dropping out of someone’s life—like entirely—without a warning or excuse as to why. (Hint: he’s over you.)
No holiday has garnered as much skepticism as Valentine’s Day. And I’ll start out by saying I have no disillusionment about changing that fact with a blog post. Nonetheless, as someone who has dedicated their career to studying love and relationships, I do think we’re a bit too down on what is supposed to be a day dedicated to romance.
If people aren’t griping about expenses, then they’re protesting commercialism. And god forbid you’re single on Valentine’s Day!
A (FALSE) FIGHT AGAINST CAPITALISM
Truth is, these protests demonstrate America’s confusion regarding something as impractical as love. After all, our culture demands efficiency, practicality, and putting yourself first. On the other hand, love demands vulnerability, putting someone else first, and delving into unfamiliar emotions. Celebrating Valentine’s Day, it could be argued, is more rebellious than disliking the holiday based on your own capitalist biases.