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.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Surviving a season of sexlessness

Whether because they saw my segment on “tips for having the talk” or figure a nearly-30-year-old virgin must be good at something (ahem), I’ve been getting requests for advice lately. Today I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learned for practicing chastity.
  1. If you’re going to be abstinent, give it your best shot. Don’t use dates, make-out buddies or significant others as your science lab to figure out where the “How far is too far?” line is. That also means no porn, no masturbation and ... well, your conscience can be your guide. But seriously: if you’ve chosen to be selective about the circumstances for having sex, techhnical adherence is basically cheating. Rather, you ought to press into and ponder the ultimate reasons for reserving sex for the ultimate commitment of marriage. If you don’t like what it means, then have the courage and candor to admit you’re not really on board with chastity, don’t trust God to know what’s best or don’t [insert your issue/objection]. Then, deal with that issue, rather than faulting something you never really gave a fair chance to begin with.
  2. Don’t use friendships as a substitute for dating someone. In my experience, intimate, opposite-sex friendships often function as emotional substitutes for the real, romantic relationship both friends might desire -- often leading to ambiguity, confusion and hurt. Again, have the courage to admit what you’re really looking for and using that friendship to provide. If you want romance, but not with that person, don’t use him or her to slake your thirst for intimacy. It’s not fair to that other person, and may even be a hindrance to finding the thing you really want. (See my post on emotional chastity for more clarification on what type of friendship I really think needs the most caution; it may not be what you think.)
  3. Do take advantage of brothers/sisters and other safe, clearly defined relationships you have with the opposite sex. I’ve been fortunate to have siblings of both sexes, but even if you don’t, you probably have some unambiguous, fully-platonic-and-couldn’t-ever-be-otherwise relationships with the opposite sex. While these certainly aren’t a substitute for a romantic partner, a lot of times our loneliness is partly spurred or exacerbated by a longing for more contact with the opposite sex. Treasure the blessing of this contact whenever you’re able to enjoy it. I’ve been amazed how much good it sometimes does me to just hang out with my brother or dad. Even if I someday marry, I hope I never lose sight of how much relating to the other men in my life enriches my community and helps meet emotional needs.
  4. Cultivate your whole self in the present. One of the traps of being consumed by your singleness is that it’s easy to start believing your whole identity revolves around your sexuality and its (un)fulfillment. This often comes at the neglect of all the other things that make you you or enrich your life, work and relationships. Pursue your other passions! Explore non-sexual ways to serve and relate and, most importantly, do what you can to maintain relationships beyond your generation. Within the circle of other 20- or 30-somethings, it’s easy to forget how little importance the question of sexual “need” has for the very young and the very old or sick. I’m often humbled and amazed by how much good it does to be around a child whose great worry is this week’s soccer game, or to catch up with a grandparent or other senior who’s dealing with losing much of his or her health and friends. Both give you a lot of perspective, and call on parts of yourself a lover may never access. If that side of you exists, though, why not nourish and encourage it? We never know who or what we’re capable of until we become that.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sexless in the City Readers’ Guide

Like most of you, I hope (at least those reading in the U.S.), I’m enjoying the Memorial Day holiday this weekend, so don’t know how much blogging that will result in. Nonetheless, I did want to briefly announce a new resource now online at the Doubleday website: a readers’ guide for Sexless in the City.

If you’re thinking of suggesting the book to your reading group, or would like some questions to think about as you digest what you’ve read, it’s a great resource. And as always, don’t forget that you can also find all the songs quoted in the book in the Sexless soundtrack, and browse the books and albums referenced in the Sexless Amazon store.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

New Radiant post: ‘The Vicarious Pleasures of Courage’

I’m off to San Diego this weekend, so don’t know if I’ll have time for a full post here, but my latest piece for Radiant’s blog “The Pulse” is now up, this one musing on Eat, Pray, Love. What do cobras have to do with eating pizza and accidentally drowning lizards in your coffee? Read the post and find out.

Also, don’t forget that for a few days more, you can still take 15% off one item at -- a great way to save even more when you buy Sexless. And until I run out of bookplates, I’ll send a signed pair to every reader who wants to share the book with a friend.

Happy weekend! Hope it’s not as hot where you are as it is here!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Train designers help improve brassieres?

Just saw this article in Newsweek, and one quote was too awesome to keep to myself:

One U.K.-based bra company, Charnos, even brought on a team of industrial designers, putting the same concepts they use to design trains to work on designing a properly supportive bra.
The story goes on to say, “Another London firm, Seymour Powell, scanned several hundred women using machinery normally used on automobiles to gather data on breast shape and form, then it developed a plastic molding to replace the uncomfortable and ill-fitting underwire that has dominated the market for decades.”

All this notwithstanding, the author soberly concludes: “While such advances are impressive, there remains no El Dorado of the bra world.”

Ah, to have an assignment like that, and the chance for such deadpan reportage. The author must be the belle of writer cocktail parties this week!

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Buy Sexless from and save 15%!

In case you haven’t bought your copy of Sexless in the City yet, you can take 15% off the cover price now through May 19 when you buy it from Barnes and Noble and use code Y8Y8E9R.

Already got it? Here’s an offer for you too. If you like the book enough that you’d like to share it with a friend as a graduation/Memorial Day/kick-off-your-summer-beach-reading gift, write me with both of your names and your address, and I’ll send a signed bookplate for both you and your friend ... until my bookplate copies run out. I wish I could offer to come sign the books in person, but at this point there’s no book tour planned, so I can’t guarantee when I’m likely to next be in your city.

Don’t forget we also have a select number of copies to give out to people who want to join the Sexless street team by helping spread the word about the book and its soundtrack, suggesting your book club read it (if you’re in one) and so on. Tell us how you could creatively let people know about the book, and we’ll send you a copy (while supplies last).

Lastly, if you’re done with the book, but curious about all the songs and books I quote in it, I’ve compiled a handy reference list of all the authors and artists to whom my book owes such a debt.

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Immodesty in church?

Rhett Smith has a couple fascinating posts on his blog this week: Showing Skin at Church and Showing Skin Continued. Basically, these posts discuss the issue of dress in church and whether there should be a difference between our attire in sacred spaces and the rest of the contexts we interact in. Before you get up on any “here’s more sexism” high horse, read the posts to hear what he’s saying. Some interesting points from several people.Personally, one of the biggest things that comes to mind from reading these two posts is, once you get past the blame game and deciding who bears responsibility, how do you go about changing things?

It seems to me, part of the problem is more of a cultural/generational one. In the last couple decades, many churches seem to have adopted such a “seeker-friendly,” church-as-entertainment mindset that there’s almost no sense of reverence in our attitude and attire. How many of us who worship on a regular basis put as much time and attention toward our appearance at church as we do for a date, presentation or job interview?

I remember once talking with a relative who doesn’t normally go to church about how much we had both appreciated a visit to a more formal, traditional service. After all, we weren’t going to church because it was just like every other program or ritual available to us; we were going because it offered something unique. Just as you behave differently at a museum or a symphony, the sense of reverence that church service modeled seemed appropriate to the service.

I’m not trying to make a case for instituting a dress code or moving away from jeans-wearing … but if offices and some schools have no problem doing so, why should church be any more casual? Besides, if the challenge of dealing with immodesty is that it tends to wind up pitting one sex against the other, a move toward slightly more reverent attire asks change of all of us.

Coming back to my question of addressing the problem of overly sexy dress, then, I would make a few general recommendations.

For men troubled by revealing attire

  1. Examine your own dress habits to see if there’s anything you can do to show more honor for God in your own dress.
  2. Pray for the women of the church, that God would help them find their identity less in their bodies and sexuality, more in being God’s beloved daughters.
  3. Look at your own interactions and relationships with women to see if you’re giving more attention to their sexuality (which can happen with praise, gaze and criticism/correction) than other aspects of their personality.
For women troubled by or dealing with revealing attire

  1. Build rapport with and pray for women who seem to be dressing more provocatively before you even consider saying something about their dress. Correction and criticism are best received in the context of a loving relationship and, in fact, that very relationship may help meet the needs driving the tendency to wear revealing clothes.
  2. Examine your own dress habits to see if there’s anything you can do to show more honor for God in your own dress. I know from experience how scary it can be to dress more modestly, when you don’t feel very attractive or able to get the male attention you long for without accentuating physical assets. But in my experience, whenever I’ve tried to trust God with this, He has always honored my obedience (see chapters 2 and 12 in Sexless for more on this).
  3. If you feel that you really need to say something to another woman, do so very prayerfully and remember the admonition to correct with gentleness. If there’s ever a verse I haven’t heard preached on that needs to be, it’s probably Galatians 6:1. Remember that the goal should not be to shame another or protect your own “purity” from their impurity, but to help others grow toward becoming the people God created us to be. When correction affirmation is balanced with loving affirmation that makes clear your feedback is not an attack on the person, it has a chance of doing real good. Ultimately, though, only God can change people’s hearts and mend our broken sense of identity. In that, He probably needs our words of correction for others far less than we think, and our prayers for them far more.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Interview in the Chronicle

For those of you who didn’t see it, my interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Heidi Benson ran in the Style section today. While on the whole it’s very accurate, a couple minor clarifications are called for.
  1. Celibacy vs. chastity. I generally dislike calling myself celibate, since that implies the vow of lifelong abstention from sex taken by Catholic priests (though not by Anglicans, as one friend hastened to inform me). To be celibate technically can refer merely to the state of being unmarried or refraining from sexual relations — both of which are accurate in my case — but I prefer the broader and more specific term chaste, defined as “refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion.”
  2. Literary agents. While I was indeed brushed off by the first one I spoke with, I was signed a couple months later by the marvelous Jane Dystel. Having wondered at first if it was worth trying to get an agent (when there was already some publisher interest in the book), I cannot stress enough how worthwhile it’s been to have Jane as my champion and adviser. As much as it can somewhat lengthen the process of selling a book, getting that expertise and representation is invaluable. You don’t know how much you don’t know until you have an agent.
Choices like mine can often be perceived as repression, disinterest in sex or lack of opportunity, but as I try to explain in the book, it’s none of those things in my case. Choosing to be abstinent until marriage doesn’t take sex off the table, but it certainly reduces the circumstances necessary for sex — finding someone I’d like to grow old with, and he with me — to something largely beyond my control. When you find yourself making a choice like that, it raises questions about both your identity and the character of the God who asks that of you.

As I’ve reckoned with these questions, I’ve realized that if who I am is fundamentally and principally a sexual being, then yes, I do risk living an unfulfilled life if I wind up dying a virgin. But if I who am is more than just a sexual being, my life’s fulfillment doesn’t depend on how many lovers or great sexual experiences I have (and no, I’m not naive enough to think they’ll all be fantastic).

While I do hope to someday marry — and certainly sooner rather later — I like to think the lesson I’m learning through this prolonged abstinence will actually give me a healthier, better sex life down the road. A few years ago, sex would have been the earth, moon and sky and probably several planets for me, and therefore a major letdown at some point. With this new perspective, however, I’m free to enjoy it just as what it is: a uniquely unitive, procreative way of sharing my whole self with someone — a good thing, but not an ultimate one.

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