March 31, 2008

The celibacy club at Harvard.

Does celibacy require a social club? Does a celibacy club deserve a lengthy NYT Magazine article? Don't be silly! It's a celibacy club at Harvard. That's what makes it newsworthy in NYTworld. "Harvard" is named 22 times in this article.

Anyway, it is slightly interesting. The reason for a club is not so abstinence types can find love. It purports to have a somewhat intellectual — Harvard-worthy? — quality to it:
“People just don’t get it,” [Janie] Fredell said. “Everyone thinks we’re trying to promote this idea of the meek little virgin female.” She said she was doing no such thing. “I care deeply for women’s rights,” she said. Fredell was studying not just religion but also gender politics — and was reading Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” alongside John Stuart Mill’s “Subjection of Women.” She had awakened to the wage gap, to forced sterilization and female genital mutilation — to the different ways that men have, she said, of controlling women. One of these was sexual. Fredell had seen it often in her own life — men pushing for sex, she said, just to “have something to say in the locker room,” women feeling pressured to have sex in order to maintain a relationship. The more she studied and learned, the more Fredell came to realize that women suffer from having premarital sex, “due to a cultural double standard,” she said, “which devalues women for their sexual pasts and glorifies men for theirs.”

She said she read in Mill that women are subordinated in relationships as a result of “socially constructed norms.” If men are commonly more promiscuous than women, it is only because the culture allows it, she said. Fredell was here to turn society around. “It’s extremely countercultural,” she said, for a woman to assert control over her own body. It is, in fact, a feminist notion. Conventional feminism, she explained, teaches that control of your body means the freedom to have sex without consequences — sex like a man. “I am an unconventional feminist,” Fredell said, in the sense that she asserts control by choosing not to have sex — by telling men, no, absolutely not.
Actually, that sounds incredibly lightweight — as if Catharine MacKinnon had never existed. But presumably the Times is not terribly sympathetic to Fredell and the values she represents.

The NYT doesn't link to the club's website, but here's the link to True Love Revolution. To my eye, the aesthetics are so poor that it clicking there opens a flood of mistrust. That blue background with a red flower, those ugly frames, the mismatched fonts. Their argument is about psychological wellbeing, but their website is driving me crazy.

Let me cut and past something from the FAQ:
Aren't people who have sex before marriage happier than people who can't get any?
Wait! That's an insane way to ask the question. I thought they were resisting and saying "no, absolutely not." Now they are people who can't get any?
Actually, premarital sexual behavior has the potential to negatively affect your emotional and mental health. Early sexual activity and having multiple sexual partners is strongly associated with increased depression, greater likelihood of maternal poverty, and higher rates of marital infidelity and divorce in future marriages.
Why are they arguing about "potential" and the statistical odds? Why is there a correlation — and does it apply to elite college students? And if you want to be philosophical, shouldn't you speak in terms of the individual?
Sexual activity in both men and women involves the release of powerful bonding hormones that are designed to help married couples stay together permanently and trust each other. Within marriage, these bonds are a cause of joy and marital harmony; but for non-married couples, such bonds can cause serious problems. When these relationships come to an end, the partners often feel a palpable sense of loss, betrayed trust, and unwelcome memories.
Did that answer the question whether you'll be happier if you abstain than if you go ahead and have sex? Can you really control the flow of hormones and the accumulation of bad memories by not having sex? Isn't the fear of future bad memories itself a source of unhappiness?

52 comments:

Trooper York said...

“People just don’t get it,” [Janie] Fredell said.

Of course not stupid, that's why it's a celibacy club. Every college has one. It's called the band.

Slim999 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

Slim, I'm not going to delete your post, but I don't want this thread hijacked. That's not the subject of the post.

MadisonMan said...

If she's not having sex to protest how men control women's sexual expression, it seems to me that men are still dictating her sexual expression.

Perhaps she should do what she wants and ignore what men talk about in locker rooms. What other people think of you really is very unimportant.

Trooper York said...

"Can you really control the flow of hormones and the accumulation of bad memories by not having sex?"

That's the whole reason why Bill Gates and the rest of those nerds invented the internets, Japanese porn and downloading Paris Hilton videos. Jeeez everybody knows that.

Bullwinkle4Amy said...

Althouse: Actually, that sounds incredibly lightweight — as if Catharine MacKinnon had never existed.

If only—and if only she'd take Andrea Dworkin with her.

George said...

The next thing you know these disgusting radicals will demand an end to co-ed dorms, dress codes (coats and ties for the men, dresses for girls), nightly curfew (for the girls, not men), and mandatory attendance at religious services.

Fen said...

C. S. Lewis on sexual appetites:

"Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, 'Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.' Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong. But I have other reasons for thinking so. The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function. Or take it another way. You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act - that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?"

A certain Wisdom I didn't appreciate when I was younger and more stupid.

Trooper York said...

Isn't she the one who makes the Girls Gone Mild Videos. I would check it out, but nobody bought one so you can't find it anywhere.

dbp said...

Agent Bedhead, which is normally a celeb gossip site, has a very lucid essay on this subject.

Middle Class Guy said...

“It’s an odd thing to see one’s lifestyle essentially attacked in The Crimson,” Fredell said.”


That is it in a nut shell. It is a matter of choice. Why would any person or group ridicule someone else’s lifestyle choices in this so called modern day and age of tolerance and acceptance?

I thought we were finally beyond criticizing and demeaning lifestyle choices and conduct. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

rcocean said...

Bet this gets at least 100 comments.
Sex sells - even the NYT knows it.

MadisonMan said...

Why would any person or group ridicule someone else’s lifestyle choices in this so called modern day and age of tolerance and acceptance?

When you start talking about your sex life, people feel free to criticize. Of course it's nobody's business but yours. That is why you shouldn't be talking about it to the press.

Middle Class Guy said...

MadisonMan,

It has always been my postion that who or what one sleeps with or does not is their own business. However, if casual sex, homosexuality, and other life style choices are promoted without ridicule, why not abstinence?

Could you imagine the near violent backlash if the Crimson wrote a similar article on a gay organization Or an organization that openly advocated miscegenation.
at Harvard?

TMink said...

"Can you really control the flow of hormones and the accumulation of bad memories by not having sex? Isn't the fear of future bad memories itself a source of unhappiness?"

Yes, and no.

It is not just hormones that are released during sexual experiences and especially orgasm. Sex is a complicated and powerful brain event that changes the brian. Along with the bonding hormones, the peak experience of sex with all the endorphins involved is stored deeply in verbal and nonverbal memory. Sex is a big deal as far as the brain goes. (Isn't it interesting that I am even posting this as newsworthy?!?)

"Fear of future bad memories" is quite a phrase. For most of us without Obsessive Compulsive Disorder problems, we react more strongly to what has actually happened or what is happening. I would wager that bad sexual and relational experiences cause much more difficulties for the average person than anticipated bad memories. While we can look forward to think "If I make this choices I will regret it later" I do not see that causing many people distress. It would be pre-regret.

Trey

ricpic said...

Women think it's all about power relations and politics;
Women just don't get it: his mind is in his dick.

Pastafarian said...

I'd be willing to bet that college students (particularly those at elite universities or in challenging majors like engineering or mathematics) who remain celibate during college have higher graduation rates and higher gpa, on average.

Certainly this correlation isn't purely cause-and-effect; but I'm sure that it partially is. I knew a lot of people in my college days who spent more time socializing and less time studying than they should have, and I know that many of them were very poor students.

And speaking from personal experience, I can assure you that months of sexual deprivation can serve to sharpen the mind. Remember that Seinfeld episode, where abstinence makes George smart? (It also made Elaine stupid, but I'm not buying that.)

Was I happier during college than my classmates who were more sexually active? Of course not -- college, for me, was years of loneliness and work. But this sort of experience produces an entirely different sort of person, and if I had it to do over, I'd do nothing differently (other than skipping that course on Fortran 77 -- what a waste). I was the first person from my family to graduate from any university, and I felt an obligation to those who couldn't go to university, to do well.

I'm happy now. Many of those students who spent their time less productively in college are not nearly as happy.

Why should this woman be criticized for this choice? She doesn't appear to be pushing it onto others. Someone (either her, or her family, or some scholarship committee) is paying to put her through Harvard. Harvard. Should she really be spending much time at keggers and frat houses?

Tibore said...

So... how many at Harvard are involuntary members?

Just askin'... :D

Fen said...

/more

"But, of course, when people say, 'Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,' they may mean 'the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of. If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips."

"... If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

Trooper York said...

"So... how many at Harvard are involuntary members?"

When I was in college, I had an involuntary member. I just be sitting there checking out the girls in the hot tight disco clothes and the next thing you, hello there!!!!

Those were the days!

Smilin' Jack said...

Sexual activity in both men and women involves the release of powerful bonding hormones that are designed to help married couples stay together permanently and trust each other.

It's depressing to find that level of ignorance of basic biology and psychology at our most prestigious university. I suppose a resurgence of the Flat Earth Society will be next.

Joan said...

Dawn Eden has written a well-received book on this topic, the cleverly-titled The Thrill of the Chaste.

At the risk of sounding like a Neanderthal, and realizing that generalizations are always at least a little bit wrong: I think it's about time that women realize that they gained nothing in the sexual revolution. Human nature doesn't change; men still won't buy a cow if they can get the milk for free.

Paul Zrimsek said...

C. S. Lewis on sexual appetites:

"You no play-a da game, you no make-a da rules." -- Earl Butz

Paddy O. said...

Does celibacy require a social club? Doesn't require it. But it certainly helps. Having an alternative peer structure brings support to what is a very difficult path to hold onto. Hence monasteries and convents.

It's not about deprivation for its own sake. It's not about following some strict rule or way. It's about restraining one drive in order to focus on other, more substantive, drives that lead to more wholeness and stillness.

It's amazing to read the old monks on the topic. They were extremely open and honest about their temptations and feelings. Very open about sex. So much so that when it came time to translate the stodgy Victorians left the sex stuff in the original languages, thinking it was only suitable for scholars.

The monks talked about it, though, and talked about it in a way that makes a lot of sense, much as Lewis does, as they realized community and conversation was essential to overcoming temptation and holding onto their higher goals.

Palladian said...

The New York Times is becoming more of a vanity fair than Vanity Fair.

Wurly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amba said...

Sex is a complicated and powerful brain event that changes the brian.

Ah, "Life of the Brian."

amba said...

It would be pre-regret.

Has anyone coined the word "pregret?" It bears a weird resemblance to "pregnant," in more ways than one.

amba said...

Looking at the article in the magazine, they put the caption "Janie Fredell . . . says that 'virginity is extremely alluring'" under a picture of her looking anything but alluring -- she looks grim and angry. Like some stereotype of a feminist, in fact.

Chip Ahoy said...

All those books and all that indignation about how men control women's sexuality and none to spare for cultures who really control the women and treat them as chattel, the way we used to. My sisters wore a veil -- when they got married, and once at a funeral. They wore headscarves too -- when they're either driving or riding in a convertible or a Jeep. They also completely covered themselves from head to foot -- for Halloween.

NYT, the paper of broken record, is chiefly a crossword publisher that also has a few other things of occasional minor interest.

When counting Harvards allow me to suggest scanning backwards, helps avoid misses.

former law student said...

The following comment is rated PG-13:

From the picture, Janie is disturbingly attractive. And instead of masking her appearance as would a burqa, her white eyeletted blouse shows fascinating stress lines at her bosom.

Whew! I'm going to have to go on a long run now (hat tip: Janie F.).

Bullwinkle4Amy said...

Paul Zrimsek: "You no play-a da game, you no make-a da rules." -- Earl Butz

Er, you do realize that C.S. Lewis was (to his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien's chagrin) Anglican, right? And a convert, right? That is, he wasn't celibate either before his conversion or after his marriage to Joy Gresham, so famously treated in "Shadowlands."

One of the reasons that Lewis is so compelling as a Christian writer is precisely because he had spent the better part of his life outside Christendom. Fortunately for everyone concerned, he didn't make the error of becoming didactic after his conversion—he always maintained the greatest sympathy for questioning and even outright disbelief.

amba said...

Always from one extreme to the other. There is a lot of territory in between casual promiscuity and premarital abstinence. From experience, I would tend to agree that women do not much enjoy the former (even when pleasurable it seems pointless). On the other hand, the experience of nonmarital relationships that included both sex and emotion was valuable even when it was painful.

peter hoh said...

While not wishing to disagree with C.S. Lewis, I would like to suggest that were we to experience sex as often as we eat, our appetite for the former might well be more in line with our appetite for the latter.

Shawn Levasseur said...

Is it just me, or is there something inherently immodest about publicly declaring your "modesty."

I find bragging about your sexual scorecard tacky. Even if that score is zero.

dbp said...

I am with FLS on Janie's attractiveness: To my eye, she has the makings of being pretty hot. The intense expression on her face will improve and become beauty, or possibly become far worse--the day after her wedding.

Fen said...

our appetite for the former might well be more in line with our appetite for the latter

Well, my problem is that while I love having steak every night, every now and then I crave pizza or seafood. Women just don't seem to understand that - its nothing personal. Of course, I wouldn't suggest anyone use that argument with their wife. I know mine can put 5 rounds in the bulleye at 20 yards....

rhhardin said...

The guy wanting sex is wanting to get rid of an urge that is oppressive, not thinking of power and politics.

Mothers wire that in their little boys to propagate the species.

The wise girl uses it to remain mysterous so the guy doesn't figure it out.

Synova said...

I suppose I've simply known too many young women who went with a guy they wouldn't have married and kept on going with him for years and years, making that investment in time and emotion and connection and a shared life... and sometimes they eventually broke up because it was never supposed to be about marriage, heck they were 15 when they started dating... and sometimes they got married.

But either way, they didn't chose this person as if they were choosing someone they wanted to spend their life with.

Does it even make sense to put that sort of non-returnable investment into a "relationship" that is never meant to be permanent?

And is it really "ignorance of basic biology and psychology" to say that sex has a bonding function? I'd think it would be simple common sense that repeated highly pleasurable and hormonal events would support bonding. What seems to be ignorance is really just rejection of the politically correct mindset which is, simply, sex is fun and has no consequences just so long as you use a condom.

Now that, to me, seems utterly ignorant. Take any other possible behavioral modification experiment and the "biology and psychology" is going to be all about reward cycles.

Sex and all the happy feelings and hormone releases and everything it does to your body and brain is like the ultimate reward cycle.

So... DUH... it has consequences and not just if you forget the condom.

You can screw up, totally, a person's entire life by associating those rewards with emotional abuse... for example. So that a girl (or guy) simply can not engage in a healthy relationship without feeling deprived.

Trying to claim that sex within marriage does not have a significant bonding function or that the fewer competing sexual relationships outside of marriage the better is ignorant.

Oh, and I'd just like to say that a few years of difficult celibacy is a small price to pay for a lifetime of condom free sex.

Synova said...

"or claiming the fewer sexual relationships outside of marriage *isn't* better..." or something.

blake said...

Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?"

C.S. Lewis had never heard of the Food Network.

Joe said...

I was a member of a chastity club; it was called church. Damn them to hell!

caplight777 said...

smilin' jack said: "It's depressing to find that level of ignorance of basic biology and psychology at our most prestigious university. I suppose a resurgence of the Flat Earth Society will be next."

sj, you're way behind in current knowledge in the neuro chemistry of sex. Oxytocin--so famous for bonding mothers and their nursing offspring, is released in men and women during orgasm, not to mention loads of dopamine. So the lady is right on target about that.

Ralph said...

If men are commonly more promiscuous than women, it is only because the culture allows it, she said
That reminds me of the end of "The Winslow Boy:" "How little you know of men." The culture didn't allow homosexuality for centuries, but that would never have stopped Titus.

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

To understand the flaw in C.S. Lewis' thinking, consider the allegory not to food, but to love.

It is natural to love a certain number of people, such as your friends, family, and children. But are we shocked at a person who feels love for hundreds, thousands, or millions of people, or even for every person on Earth? Of course not. Indeed, Christianity itself considers the universal love of all humanity to be literally divine. Similarly we see nothing shocking about stories, plays, or movies that celebrate the act of love. We not only don't think less of people who make love the main focus of their lives -- we name holidays in their honor!

Lewis' argument only makes sense if you assume the truth of the very thing he's trying to prove, namely that too much sex is a bad thing. But Lewis never gets around to explaining what's wrong with sex or why we should want there to be less of it in the world, choosing instead to make an argument about the unrelated issue of overpopulation.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Er, you do realize that C.S. Lewis was (to his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien's chagrin) Anglican, right? And a convert, right? That is, he wasn't celibate either before his conversion or after his marriage to Joy Gresham, so famously treated in "Shadowlands."

To paraphrase the Green Lady in Perelandra: I do not understand. Celibate with us is not the name of a church.

Joan said...

Revenant: But Lewis never gets around to explaining what's wrong with sex or why we should want there to be less of it in the world, choosing instead to make an argument about the unrelated issue of overpopulation.

Wow, Rev, I can't believe that was you. You're usually better than this. Are you honestly saying that there is a method of birth control, other than abstinence, that is 100% effective? Are you disputing that if males had sex as often as their drive would lead them to, there wouldn't be an accompanying explosion in the birth rate?

Lewis's analogy is a good one, as both eating and sex are physical functions, and the desire for them is controlled by the endocrine (hormonal) system. Comparing sex to love is odd, as love is not required for survival of the species; eating and sex certainly are. Is there a biological imperative to love? It's immaterial to this discussion, but even if there were, it wouldn't be required for the propagation of the species.

Meade said...

“This is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh, oxytocin of the posterior lobe of my pituitary gland.”

- Genesis: The Sequel, Chapter 1: In Which Adam Goes to Harvard, Joins A Radical Sex Blog Social Club, And Once Again Meets Who He Assumes To Be The Love Of His Life Only To Discover Not Only Is The Free Milk Not Exactly Free But It Isn't Even Hormone-Free - Plus, His Ribs, Oddly Enough, Are Still A Little Sore - Oh Well, At Least This Time He'll Have His Ivy League Degree - Something He Can Fall Back On In Case The Gardening Job Doesn't Work Out To Be All That Fruitful After All - Maybe Even Go On To Get His Master's - Teach Science And Anatomy At The Junior College Back Home In Missouri

Revenant said...

Wow, Rev, I can't believe that was you. You're usually better than this. Are you honestly saying that there is a method of birth control, other than abstinence, that is 100% effective?

There are two, actually -- abortion and surgical sterilization. But that's a moot point, since birth control doesn't have to be anywhere near 100% effective in order for Lewis' argument to be revealed as nonsense. The reason? His argument is based on the idea of 100% fertility:

if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village.

In other words, his argument is based around the idea of 100% fertility, which is about as realistic a hypothetical as "imagine that every time you stuck your penis in an unmarried woman, she exploded".

The second reason that Lewis' overpopulation argument is nonsense is that he is using fertility to argue not against sex, but against sex outside of marriage. But there's nothing magical about sex inside of marriage that causes the women in question to miraculously cease being fertile. Quite the opposite, actually, since married couples are generally more fertile than unmarried couples, since the former are generally less concerned with birth control. So suppose Lewis had argued thusly:

Imagine that every time a man had sex with his wife, she became pregnant. Regular marital relations would lead to the wife being in a state of perpetual pregnancy, and the 24 children born over the 20 years of married fertility would put enormous hardship on the family and in short order cause devastating overpopulation around the world. So we can see that it is wrong for married people to have sex.

Total nonsense, right? But that's the logical implication of Lewis' argument -- the reasons he give for sex being bad apply even more to married couples than they do to single ones.

The third reason why Lewis' overpopulation argument is nonsense is that it assumes an infinite supply of fertile women per man -- that is what is necessary for a man to produce one pregnancy per sex act. In reality, of course, there is approximately ONE fertile woman per man, each of whom can produce an absolute maximum of about 1.1 babies per year -- or, if they're using one of the many reliable birth control methods out there, 0.02 babies per year on average.

The final reason why his argument is nonsense is that it is empirically false -- relaxation of sexual mores is inversely correlated with fertility rates throughout the world. In much of Europe, for example, the birth rate is collapsing even as the percentage of people having sex outside of marriage increases. This tells us that if sexual promiscuity *does* increase the birth rate, it doesn't do so significantly. The sex-obsessed America of 2008 has roughly the lowest fertility of our nation's history.

Are you disputing that if males had sex as often as their drive would lead them to, there wouldn't be an accompanying explosion in the birth rate?

Slight increase, yes. Explosion, no. If I had sex with every woman I ever felt like having sex with whenever I felt like it (assuming for the sake of argument that all the women in question were willing), by the time I died I'd still have fewer children than the average married man.

Comparing sex to love is odd, as love is not required for survival of the species; eating and sex certainly are.

I chose love because Christians (e.g., Lewis) would generally agree that love is the most important thing there is, and certainly more important than mere physical survival. Besides, from a species survival standpoint the evidence is that all sorts of "immoral" behavior, from infidelity to covetousness to warfare, benefits our survival as a species. The fallacious argument that what is best for the species equates to what is morally right is what got the original Social Darwinists in so much trouble. :)

Joan said...

There are two, actually -- abortion and surgical sterilization.

You're right, of course, even though abortion's not contraception. My brain just did not go there. Nor would Lewis's, given the time in which he was writing.

Lewis' argument [is] nonsense. The reason? His argument is based on the idea of 100% fertility

Of course, Lewis was arguing a point in the extreme. I'm sure he knew that what he was supposing was ridiculous, but it is one recognized way to make an argument. In his analogy, if you eat every time you're hungry, you get fat. If you have sex every time you get the urge, there are a lot more negative consequences affecting a lot more people.

The second reason that Lewis' overpopulation argument is nonsense is that he is using fertility to argue not against sex, but against sex outside of marriage.

You're missing his point entirely. Even within marriage, couples must practice chastity so that they don't end up producing 24 children over a 20-year period of fertility. Lewis was arguing against acting on the sexual impulse whenever it struck, whether inside or outside of marriage.

The third reason why Lewis' overpopulation argument is nonsense is that it assumes an infinite supply of fertile women per man -- that is what is necessary for a man to produce one pregnancy per sex act. In reality, of course, there is approximately ONE fertile woman per man...

I don't know what reality you're living in. Aren't you familiar with the pop culture figures who have fathered multiple children with multiple women? For certain classes of men, there approaches an infinite number of willing, fertile women, where "infinite" roughly corresponds to "as many as he wants."

The final reason why his argument is nonsense is that it is empirically false -- relaxation of sexual mores is inversely correlated with fertility rates throughout the world.

But Lewis wasn't talking merely about "the relaxation of sexual mores", he was talking about fulfilling every urge to have sex. You're comparing apples to hypothetical oranges here.


If I had sex with every woman I ever felt like having sex with whenever I felt like it (assuming for the sake of argument that all the women in question were willing), by the time I died I'd still have fewer children than the average married man.

I can't see how this could possibly be true, unless you have a nearly non-existent sex drive. Think back to your teenage years. If you were yielding to every sexual impulse back then, would you have done much else besides have sex?

I chose love because Christians (e.g., Lewis) would generally agree that love is the most important thing there is, and certainly more important than mere physical survival.

Without mere physical survival, there is no possibility for love. We don't need to climb Maslow's hierarchy to figure that one out.

But the whole point of the celibacy club is to make secular arguments for abstaining from sex. You've taken the discussion out of bounds.

Revenant said...

In his analogy, if you eat every time you're hungry, you get fat. If you have sex every time you get the urge, there are a lot more negative consequences affecting a lot more people.

But that's just it -- there aren't "a lot more negative consequences". If you overeat constantly you WILL get fat and almost certainly die early. If you regularly indulge your sex drive, on the other hand, the most common result is that nothing bad happens at all. Lewis substituted hyperbole for reasoned argument.

Lewis was arguing against acting on the sexual impulse whenever it struck, whether inside or outside of marriage

No, he wasn't. He was arguing in defense of the Christian position of "either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence". The problem, of course, is that under his "100% fertility" thought experiment it doesn't matter whether you are faithful to your wife or not. Whether you sleep with your wife five times during your entire marriage or shun the marriage bed and cheat on her with another woman five times, either way you produce five kids. So his argument ends up NOT being a defense of the Christian position, but rather a defense of pretty much never having sex at all. Which of course is not the Christian position at all; most Christian sects have no problem with married couples having all kinds of crazy sex provided that they don't have more children than they can afford.

I don't know what reality you're living in. Aren't you familiar with the pop culture figures who have fathered multiple children with multiple women?

You've completely missed the point. Sure, a rare individual can father children with multiple women -- but that means that other men don't get to impregnate anybody at all. Take a small nation of 1000 men and 1000 women as an example. If every man in that nation indulges in sex whenever they feel like it and always impregnates his partner, how many pregnancies does each man cause during the next ten months? The answer is "one", not "one thousand". Lewis' argument that "in ten years [a man] might easily populate a small village" is possible if and only if a whole lot of other men are getting shut off from sex. Otherwise that one man is going to discover that the other women in the world are already taken.

But Lewis wasn't talking merely about "the relaxation of sexual mores", he was talking about fulfilling every urge to have sex.

As I noted above, he was talking about the Christian position that all extramarital sex is bad. The problem he claims is caused by the sexual urge has decreased as the extent to which the sexual urge is indulged extramaritally has increased -- precisely the opposite of what Lewis predicted would happen.

Without mere physical survival, there is no possibility for love.

There is no love in the afterlife? That's precisely the opposite of what I learned in Sunday School.

But the whole point of the celibacy club is to make secular arguments for abstaining from sex. You've taken the discussion out of bounds.

Fen's the one who brought religion into it. I have no issue with the celibacy club. Who wants to have sex with Harvard students anyway? The geeks up the street at MIT are way sexier. :)