Leon Kass has an intriguing article about sex and courtship among young people in America today. He and his wife have for years taught a course on courtship and marriage at The University of Chicago. A few years ago, they published an anthology of great literature that treats various aspects of love and marriage. The book is worth reading, and I’m sure the class is fantastic.
Here are a couple tidbits from the article:
The supreme virtue of the virtuous woman was modesty, a form of sexual self-control, manifested not only in chastity but in decorous dress and manner, speech and deed, and in reticence in the display of her well-banked affections. A virtue, as it were, made for courtship, it served simultaneously as a source of attraction and a spur to manly ardor, a guard against a woman’s own desires, as well as a defense against unworthy suitors. A fine woman understood that giving her body (in earlier times, even her kiss) meant giving her heart, which was too precious to be bestowed on anyone who would not prove himself worthy, at the very least by pledging himself in marriage to be her defender and lover forever.
Safe sex? Not so fast.
Sex is by its nature unsafe. All interpersonal relations are necessarily risky and serious ones especially so. And to give oneself to another, body and soul, is hardly playing it safe. Sexuality is at its core profoundly “unsafe,” and it is only thanks to contraception that we are encouraged to forget its inherent “dangers.” These go beyond the hazards of venereal disease, which are always a reminder and a symbol of the high stakes involved, and beyond the risks of pregnancy and the pains and dangers of childbirth to the mother. To repeat, sexuality itself means mortality — equally for both man and woman. Whether we know it or not, when we are sexually active we are voting with our genitalia for our own demise. “Safe sex” is the self-delusion of shallow souls.
What would it take to recover a higher view of sex and marriage? Could leaner times aid in that cultural shift? Can an adequate understanding of these issues be achieved apart from religious commitments and religious communities?