Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Demystifying "premarital"

Sex advice show Savage U (hated by Idaho legislators)
As Idaho lawmakers take a symbolic stand (was there ever was a more useless stand, or a more wasteful use of taxpayer money?) against premarital sex by "urging the Federal government and the FCC to prohibit the portrayal, even implied, or even the discussion of premarital sex on TV between 6am and 10pm," I think some demystification is in order.

Yes, it would be a gross violation of freedom of speech for such a ban to take effect. No question (I saw the suggestion that more liberal-leaning members of the Idaho legislature propose banning the depiction of guns on TV, and we could see "how fast it would take these Republicans to discover the First Amendment").
Yes, it's ironic that such a ban would prevent educational discussion of safer sex, along with presumably any depiction or discussion of extramarital sex, which would make it difficult for news programs to discuss the many sex scandals of politicians (usually Republican...hmm, maybe this ban is making more and more sense). Oh, and also-- soap operas. A lot of those take place between 6am and 10pm, don't they?

But what I really want to talk about is this notion of "premarital sex," and why it supposedly shouldn't be depicted or discussed. The vast majority of Americans have had or will have sex outside of marriage, including presumably the majority of Idaho lawmakers trying to prevent TV from so much as talking about it. And I use the word "outside" there because the word "premarital" is, or should be considered at this point, ridiculous. Think of the implications with regard to this particular "symbolic stand":

  • Could unmarried characters on TV shows get around this provision by simply declaring their intent to spend the rest of their lives unmarried before getting it on (or talking about getting it on)? 
  • Is depiction of married TV characters having sex, however explicit or raunchy, a-okay then?
  • What about gay sex? Is depiction or discussion of that just fine, since all gay sex is outside of marriage-- in Idaho, at least? And isn't it weird to think about calling it "premarital" in that context? Like the "pre" means "before it's legal for me to get married (and I've been an adult for years)"?

I'm 35, and have never been married. At what point does my sex stop being "premarital," if ever? Would Idaho prefer that my sexual activities never be depicted or discussed on television? (Of course I would prefer that, but actually making it illegal seems like, you know, a bit of overkill.) And yes, I'm an exception in that regard-- most Americans do get married. But they get married at different points, usually well past the age of majority, and (again) most of them have sex prior to the point at which they get married. Sometimes long before. So what is the point of pretending otherwise? Isn't it lazy-- wait, not just lazy but harmful-- to make marriage some kind of benchmark at which sex becomes suddenly permissible and the actual real-world concerns that necessitate having sex safely-- unwanted pregnancy and disease-- suddenly vanish?

Because they don't.

Marriage is many things. It is a legal contract between two people (and their god, if that's what they believe). It is a commitment to share life and love, joys and grief, together. It is, basically, whatever these partners (at this point, since polygamy isn't legal at the moment) decide to make it, and they can make it something amazing. But three things they can't make it for themselves, much less for every married couple, are 1) a prophylactic, 2) a fail-safe monogamous arrangement, or 3) a mature, non-abusive, psychologically healthy relationship. Marriage doesn't stop unwanted pregnancy, it doesn't stop transmission of disease, and it doesn't stop rape, manipulation, cheating, or any other kind of negative behavior by one's partner. To pretend otherwise is to lie.

To that extent, talking about premarital sex is also a lie. It suggests that a person's life can be divided into two periods-- premarital and marital (and presumably post-marital, if your spouse dies or if you get divorced, as half the population does), and the period before marriage is when sex is wrong, bad, dangerous, etc. This is, strangely, how some people who oppose same-sex marriage so vociferously have actually created the very problem they argue against. It goes something like this:
  1. Sex outside of marriage is dangerous and bad.
  2. Gays, not being married (because of course they can't get married), can only have sex outside of marriage. 
  3. Therefore gays have dangerous, bad sex. 
  4. Therefore we can't let gays get married, because their sex is dangerous and bad. 
Yes, seriously.

So how about we do something radical, and decide that there's no such thing as "premarital"? That marriage is not an inevitability, it's not permanent, and it's not a guarantee against the things you need to worry about, sexually, when you're not married? Because realistically, there are no such things. Not, that is, unless you think that things like being disallowed from visiting your partner and making medical decisions for him/her while in hospital counts as a sexual concern. Not unless you think that being able to keep your partner in the country after immigrating because they're your partner counts as a sexual concern. Not unless you think that tax benefits associated with marriage are sexual concerns. 

Let this post not be interpreted as an argument against marriage-- it undoubtedly has benefits, emotional and pragmatic, and I'm not saying otherwise. I'm just saying that it's not a finish line. You don't get to run run run run and virtuously, dedicatedly, remain celibate until that magical point when you get to dress in white (if female) or a tux (if male) and leap through the tape stretched across the point where you no longer have to care about your reproductive and sexual needs because they weren't taken care of before and they are and forever. 

Nope. Not even if you do, eventually, get married.'s a thought. Let's drop the concern about "premarital sex," and be concerned about unsafe sex. Problematic sex. Non-consensual sex. 

And let's not hide it. Let's talk about it, because we all-- if we're honest-- are doing it, or have done it, or will do it.

Are you listening, Idaho?


  1. Another thought: Why does it assume that I even want to be married?

  2. Here's an interesting thing you made me think about by using the phrase post-marital. I was raised as a protestant and something I remember hearing was always that you have to wait until marriage. One day I found myself wondering what that means once you're divorce or a widow(er). Does that mean that sex is a free-for-all once you've been married once? (And, of course, Muslims have the get out of hell free card of creating a temp marriage for purposes of not having sex outside of marriage)

    Second, I think the most dangerous thing about the focus on no sex is that it has been documented to lead to non-penis in vagina (PIV) sex because the kids get hung up on PIV being the definition of sex. They don't want to have sex before marriage so they do everything outside of PIV. However, we know that the real thing you need to worry about with sex is STD/STI so these kids are being done a disservice as they might not know that HPV can be spread via oral. And, if done incorrectly, HIV can spread via anal. And herpes is just based on skin-to-skin contact. And so on.

    That's why my parents' sex talk was the best. We were Christian, but they were realists. They told me, "If you have sex - use a condom and be careful not to get anyone pregnant."


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