Dawn Eden has written The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, about the virtues of chastity for the single person. Eden comes from a Reformed Jewish background but is now a devout Catholic, which means, for her, that she went from being “reluctantly” pro-choice to decidedly pro-life, among other things. She is also the founder of the blog, “The Dawn Patrol.” (Look at December 8, 2008 for videos about the views she espouses in her book.) Here is an article about her book (It also includes a video of a panel discussion on MSNBC’s Today Show). And here is an interview with her from Salon.com. Read an excerpt from Chapter One here. (You can find other videos on YouTube–search for “Dawn Eden.”)
I was intrigued by what Eden had to say about the value of chastity. This is so not in line with the feminist party line (especially from the Free Love period of the ’60s and ’70s) that I felt it was worth examining. I don’t know if Eden would call herself a feminist, but the fact that she has “converted” to chastity should not disqualify her from being one. There is nothing about the feminist ideology that says that you have to be “free” sexually, but it is often assumed that there is, which is one reason why conservative women abhor feminism.
I myself welcome the concept of not putting yourself “out there” sexually, especially if you do it because “everyone else does it.” But I don’t think it’s realistic that young women would flock to chastity without having religious convictions that take them there. And feminism is about choices, which means that it doesn’t condemn people for having sex outside of marriage. But it should also not condemn people for not having sex outside of marriage. I think that it’s safe to say that the feminist line is that women should be free to choose either route.
However, I also think it’s safe to say that most feminists would be uncomfortable pushing chastity as an ideal for single women (and men). It seems too restrictive and smacks of judgmentalism. Eden’s choice is right for her (and to be fair to her, her book is described as a memoir, not a manifesto). But is it an ideal worth considering? I think that depends on why a woman has sex outside of marriage. If she does because she is afraid she will lose the man if she doesn’t, then that is simply demeaning. In that circumstance, I would recommend chastity. As Eden puts it in her book: “If you have to ask someone if he’ll still love you tomorrow, then he doesn’t love you tonight.”
But what if you don’t care if he loves you tomorrow? What if you just want to have sex? Eden herself has had plenty of it in her life; you could argue that chastity might not be as hard for her to take on since she has already “sowed her wild oats.” I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that it is. Do you need to try free love first in order to find out if it’s right for you or not? Or just take Eden’s word for it?
The feminist in me says that every woman should be free to experiment. Conservatives argue that choosing chastity first ensures that you will not experience the heartbreak and dehumanization that casual sex brings. (Not to mention disease and unwanted pregnancy.) But insisting on abstinence ignores the needs human beings have for intimacy and the fact that it is not always realistic to expect that they will marry before having sex. You could even argue, as some do, that not having sex before marriage could lead to a higher divorce rate. Our grandmothers may have said, “Why buy the cow if you can have the milk for free?” But today’s couples are more likely to say, “Why buy the cow if you don’t know beforehand that it will produce milk?”
I tend to think that is a healthier approach. After all, the former question implies that a man is buying a woman. The latter that the couple is buying a marriage. There’s a distinct difference.