Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Why kissing leads to sex

What is it about our fixation with virgins?

Cherry poppin’ daddies, indeed ...
Sorry to wax a little more serious today, but yesterday I had a coffee conversation in which the subject came up — virgins, that is, not seriousness. ;) My talk-mate was a single-but-dating 42-year-old woman who came to Christianity as an adult. If I think my love life’s bad, clearly it’s nothing compared to the woes of the pre-menopausal single set. And that was another of her complaints: how inappropriate most of the Christian guides to dating are for people older than 30. But I’ll get to that strange world in a bit.

More than once, this woman told me, she’s talked with eligible Christian men in her age bracket who were holding out for the ideal of a virgin wife … a 35-year-old virgin wife, in some cases.

Sound extraordinary? Sound hard to believe? Sound like more of that horrible Christian sexual repression? Yeah, it’s probably bits of all of that. But more interesting than the expectation of celibacy and self-control, I think, is the notion that’s one spouse should be a virgin. I think we all know that rule applies more to women than men (but with Christians don’t bet on it). In fact, that was one of the first lessons I gleaned from youthful reading of romance novels: maybe “God’s plan” of a virgin husband wasn’t so great, considering I could get a lover who knew his way around the business. Surely getting it right the first time would be a little more fun?

The many shades of virgininty
According to some, however, the “it” to be gotten right could be many different things. Thus, my brother once belonged to a “virgin lips club” of his other unkissed guy friends (this was actually in college, believe it or not — and these were students at a sizeable public university with a longstanding rep as “party school”; you could say they belonged to the wrong fraternity). My hapless sibling, failing to reckon on the Broadway libido, supposed that somehow he’d persist in such a fate far longer than the other guys, thus being the recipient of many a steak dinner purchased for the remaining members by the guys who were “deflowered.” As luck would have it, said brother started dating his wife not long after that, and the randy couple swiftly got busy dispensing with that round of virginity.

You see, Christians are very weird when it comes to sex. Not only must we wait until we’re married to have it, but because we kinda like to sample little bits and pieces of the pie without committing to just taking a whole piece, we divide sex up into a highly technical spectrum of physical gestures. You think I jest?

The touch ➵ sex continuum
In one of his more “classic” works, Love for a Lifetime, the Christian psychologist James Dobson actually divides physical contact into a series of 10 increasingly intimate actions, culminating with coitus (I’m not sure where oral sex fit into this scheme). Inspired, perhaps, by the Beatles’ hit single, holding hands was considered phase 1 (as I recall). After that, kissing was introduced, distinguished as peck kissing and French kissing — phases 2 and 3. (One speaker I heard once referred to three kinds of kisses, described in vaguely onomatopoetic terms as peach, plum and pomegranate kisses. … OK, I confess, I forgot the third fruit, but saying it required a dexterous tongue. Wink, wink.)

Then somewhere Dobson introduces the hand-to-head gesture, which he considers fairly intimate. Touching it was like phase 4 — definitely a surprise entry. (Makes ya wonder whether childhood hair-pulling is termed, in his world, a kind of prepubescent sexual acting-out — right up there with Freud’s circa-age-6 rubbing of genitals.) And right about then we hit what Christians (and traditionalists) like to call “petting.” I still can’t reckon why they’d like to compare such actions to rubbing a dog … perhaps they’re more in agreement than you’d think with the folks who wrote that song about the Discovery channel??

Anyway, Dobson is very particular about the levels of petting. There’s hand-to-clothed-breast petting (phase 5, if I recall), hand-to-clothed-genitals (phase 6), hand-to-bare-breast (phase 7), mouth-to-bare-breast (phase 8) … and somehow he ends up with 10: bam, coitus. (For some reason I’m suddenly getting bizarre visions of a Christian movie- or date-rating system that morphs Dobson’s scheme with our country’s color-coded terror-level system: this movie is CODE ORANGE! Was your last date CODE YELLOW? …. Or CODE ORANGE?!)

‘I kissed kissing goodbye’*
As you might guess, the advantage for Christians is that neatly dicing up sex into all these various layers make it far simpler for couples to decide “how far is too far.” And as you may have heard, some even take it to the extreme level of saving the first kiss for the wedding ceremony. You think that’s crazy? Well … yes … maybe … but I have a friend who did it.

In some ways, my experience in the wild, wooly world of New York dating (now there’s an uninspired use of cliché!) teaches me some outside the church are actually not so far away in their thinking. I have found, for instance, that men who begin to realize the odds are not in their favor for significant first-date action sometimes respond in a fashion philosophically similar to my save-the-kiss-for-ring-day friend. Certainly some guys are happy to push for as much as they can get, in hopes my standards will somehow weaken in response to their advances … but a surprising number of guys are all-r-nuthin’ sorts.

If they don’t stand a chance of getting laid, I can forget the goodnight kiss. (And that, by the way, is the clue to 5% Man’s nickname. One night more drunk —I mean, dehydrated — than I realized, I offered thanks for an escort home with the dubious invitation to “come upstairs and go 95 percent of the way.” I completely forgot about this later until he brought the story up. Confronted with that most peculiar way of putting it, friends concluded no one would make up an offer like that … and no one could’ve made it other than me. Sigh. Needless to say, he declined —hence the nickname.)

In a strange sort of way, men like him bear much in common with my parents, who warned that French kissing leads to sex (the difference: he expects such kissing to lead to sex). I used to think it odd the way movies depict a sudden progression between kissing and sex — as if the meeting of tongues mysteriously loosens one’s clothes and unlocks bedroom doors. But the more men I talk to, that’s usually how it goes. Kissing = tongue-kissing = making out = odds’re damn good you’re getting laid. Which is, in the end, pretty similar to the thinking of my friend, who wanted her kissing to have the same result.

A moment with the man of the month
And for concluding thoughts, a quote from Steven Rhoads (here to remind us that science never lies):
… [T]he double standard in one form or another seems nearly universal. It is especially strong in societies where male investment in offspring is important for children’s well-being. Sexually permisseive women who require no investment might give men pleasure without cost, but evolution has not been kind to the genes of men who raised other men’s children. Thus the male psychology that has developed over time makes both sexually permissive women and faithful wives appealing. Indeed, of sixty-seven trates enumerated in a survey, American men “regard infidelity as the least desirable characteristic in a wife.” (Wives also abhor sexual infidelity in husbands, but believe that “several other factors, such as sexual aggressiveness, exceed infidelity in the grief they cause women.”) [Rhoads cites David Buss, The Evolution of Desire]

As long as men more than women abhor promiscuity in potential spouses, some sort of double standard will exist. And society will reinforce these attitudes because parents want their children to be able to attract good mates; and parents will know that female promiscuity affects long-term prospects far more than male promiscuity does. [from page 98]
… Ah, such cheering thoughts, eh? ;) More to come later on why, based on evolutionary psychology and other reasons, he thinks men are better off choosing to invest in committed relationships.

*A reference to the popular Christian courting-trumps-dating book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I’ve always preferred the take of one (now-married) guy friend who claimed: “I gave dating the tongue.” Speak it to us, preacher kid!

Love for a Lifetime
Love for a Lifetime
Taking Sex Differences Seriously
Taking Sex Differences Seriously
The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating
The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
I Kissed Dating Goodbye