by J. Budziszewski
What’s the big deal about pre-marital sex? Professor Theophilus demonstrates with a piece of duct tape in this fictional story.
Don and I had just taken chairs in the Edge of Night. “Whatcha want?” asked the waitress.
“Espresso,” said I.
“Pizza,” said Don. “Sixteen inch, double pepperoni, double grease.”
She turned her gimlet eye back to me. “Y’want that espresso triple, double or squimpy?”
“Squimpy,” I answered, “thanks.” She slouched away.
“Squimpy?” said Don.
“Double grease?” I answered. We laughed. Don is always eating. A full 8 inches taller than I am, he weighs at least 30 pounds less. You can draw your own conclusions.
On the walk across campus he’d been telling me his problem with his housemate’s girlfriend.
“Um, can we talk now, Prof?”
“Let’s see,” I said. “She came on to you, you didn’t give in, but — how did you put it? — the experience raised some questions in your mind. What questions?”
“Well …” Don reddens easily, and he reddened now. “It’s not that I’m …” Pause. “I mean, I know God intends sex for marriage, but …” Pause. “She’s awfully good-looking, and I couldn’t help wondering …” Dead stop.
“Wondering what it would …” I prompted. Not that I wanted to answer that particular question.
“No! I mean, yes, I did wonder that. But it’s not my question.”
“What’s your question?”
“Why did God reserve sex for marriage? There must be reasons, but it would help a healthy guy a whole lot to know what they are.”
I laughed. “I suppose it would.”
“I’m not trying to second-guess Him or anything. I know His way is right whether I understand what He’s up to or not. Understanding would just make it easier, you know?”
“Sure,” I replied. “I don’t have the whole answer, Don. But I’ll answer the best I can.” He blew out his breath in relief.
Just at that moment Don’s buddy Peter came up — good fellow, but noisy. “Hey, Prof. Hey, Don. Whatcha talking about?”
“Professor T’s just giving me the good line,” said Don. “Right, Prof?”
I could tell Don didn’t want to tell him, but he’d boxed himself in. “If you must know, it’s sex.”
“No kidding!” grinned Peter. He turned toward a group at the other end of the room. “Theophilus is talking about sex!” he yelled. Before we knew it, eight or nine guys were dragging chairs to our table. A few were with girls; I recognized Mary. Crimson, Don was cradling his head in his hands. His pizza arrived, and half of it vanished in a flurry of reaching hands.
“We’re talking about Don’s sex life, right?” Peter asked. Lifting his head, Don shot me a look of appeal.
“No,” I said, “about the philosophy of sex.” Don looked grateful. “I was about to say something about why sex is reserved for married people.”
“Your exotic reputation precedes you, Professor Theophilus. Enlighten us!” This from a fellow with glasses.
“Are all of you really serious?”
“Yes!” they chorused. I smiled wryly and shook my head. This was a little out of my previous experience.
“OK,” I said, “I don’t have much time, so let’s set limits. First, I’ll discuss this issue only. Second, I’ll only cover the Christian view, which is my own. Third, I’ll only lay out the basics. Fair?” They agreed.
“But, Professor T” — it was the glasses guy, the one who had called me “exotic.” “Isn’t it obvious what you’ll tell us? You’ll harp about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, then tell us the only way to keep safe is to wait for marriage.”
A short fellow across from him interrupted. “Those seem like good reasons to me.” A half-dozen voices broke out, some in agreement, some in dispute.
“Hold on,” I broke in. “You’re missing the point. Anyone listening would think that if only condoms worked perfectly, then extramarital sex would be all right.”
“Wouldn’t it?” asked Shorts. Everyone laughed.
“What’s wrong with that picture?” I asked.
“Well, they don’t work perfectly,” suggested a red-haired young man. “You could drive a truck through the pores in latex rubber.”
“But you could imagine a technology that did work perfectly. Try again.”
Don spoke up. “Is it that even with a perfect technology, you couldn’t get people to use it?”
“No. You could imagine an even better technology that worked independently of their wills.”
Glasses interrupted. “Are you getting at the idea that our list of bad consequences is incomplete?”
“That was my thought,” said a blond young woman seated next to him. “Even a perfect shield against pregnancy and disease would leave consequences like jealousy and mistrust untouched.”
“But you could imagine a system of drugs and conditioning that would eliminate those consequences, too.”
“Like Brave New World,” said Mary.
“Cool,” said the red-haired fellow. “I read that in my English class. Aldous Huxley. Pneumaaaaaaatic.” A few guys smirked.
“Not cool,” said a tall girl. “The people in Huxley’s paradise are loathsome. They don’t understand the point of sex.”
“And what is its point?” I asked.
“I don’t know — but I know they haven’t a clue.”
“Come on, group,” I urged. “A question is on the table. What is the point of sex?”
“The point?” asked Peter.
“The point! What is it for? What is its purpose?”
“That’s obvious,” he said. “Pleasure.”
“No,” I said, “Pleasure is great, but it comes as a byproduct of doing things that are more important than pleasure. What happens when you pursue it for its own sake?”
“It disappears,” said the tall girl. “My sorority sister is ‘doing it’ more and more but enjoying it less and less.”
“That’s called ’empty’ sex,” I said. “If pleasure isn’t the purpose, what else might the purpose be?”
“Love?” asked Mary.
“Depends on what you mean.”
“You know, romantic feelings.”
“If it’s feelings we’re talking about, we’re in the same blind alley as with pleasure. Feelings are by-products. They don’t make sense as goals. Besides, promiscuity destroys romance.”
“How can you say that?” asked Shorts.
“Let the women answer,” I said. “Women, how romantic is it to stand buck-naked in front of a man who hasn’t given his life to you?”
Mary looked down. “Not very,” she said.
“Besides,” I went on, “love is not a feeling.”
“Not a feeling?” asked the tall girl. “What else could it be? ”
“Love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person. Otherwise, how could people getting married promise to love each other? You can’t promise to have a feeling.”
“That’s why you need divorce,” said Glasses.
“No, it’s why marriage has to be based on something else,” I replied.
“If love is a commitment of the will, what does sex have to do with it?” he pressed.
“Sexual union takes each spouse out of the Self for the sake of the Other.”
“Think. What is the biological purpose of sex? ”
“That’s obvious,” said a blonde girl. “Having babies.”
“Right. What are some other biological functions?”
“Eating!” “Digestion!” “Growth!”
“Good answers,” I said. “Now pay attention. How many bodies does it take for you to do those things?”
“One,” came the reply.
“And how many does it take to procreate?”
“Can you think of any other function that your body can’t perform on its own?”
“Then do you see how sex is special? In every other biological function, husband and wife are separate organisms; for procreation, they become one. Conjugal union is a true merging. They become a one-flesh unity. And I don’t mean just flesh.”
Mary cut in. “What do you mean, not just flesh?”
“I’m giving the Christian view, right? Now think. In the Christian view, if this is how we function, it’s because this is how we were designed to function — by God. Do you follow me?”
“Yes, but —”
“Hold on. Now if God designed us to work this way, He must have finished the job.”
“What do you mean?” asked the tall girl.
“He wouldn’t stop with the design of our bodies.”
“What else is there?” asked Peter.
“Emotions?” she suggested.
“Emotions, and a lot of other things besides. We’re designed for wholeness. You see, in sexual self-giving the hearts and minds and spirits of the husband and wife cooperate with their bodies. They are united not just in their bodily dimension, but in every dimension. This unity also helps prepare them to be parents, and the hope of children joins them in solidarity with every past and future generation. That takes you out of your Self, too.”
“But you just admitted that love involves emotions,” said Mary. “Didn’t you say that love is not a feeling?”
“I said that love can’t be defined as a feeling; I didn’t say it doesn’t involve the feelings and all the other things. Of course it does.”
The red-haired guy spoke up. “You’ve missed something, Professor T. If its ‘all the other things’ that people want, then they can enjoy them now and settle down to a commitment later.”
“You think so?” I answered. I snagged the waitress as she slumped past the table. “Miss, do you have some tape by any chance? I need something sticky.” She found a roll of silver-gray duct tape from a nearby shelf, slapped it on the table and drooped off.
Don was amazed. “How’d you know she’d have that?”
“In a place like this they use duct tape for everything,” I said. “What do you think is holding the cash register together?” Heads turned.
“Now, Red,” I said, “give me your arm.”
“Your arm. Roll up your sleeve.” He gave me a funny look, but obeyed. Everyone watched intently. “Nice and hairy — good.” I tore off a 6-inch piece of duct tape and showed it to him. “Tell this tape, ‘Don’t stick.'”
“Don’t stick, tape!”
“Let’s see whether it obeys.” I pressed it down on his arm, then counted “One, two, three!” and ripped it off.
“Hey!” he gasped. Everyone laughed.
“Hmmm. Let’s try it again.” Rip! “Better that time?”
“A little,” he grimaced. “How many times are you going to do that?”
“As many as it takes for the tape to obey.” We did it five or six more times. Each time the tape was a little less sticky.
“It seems that the tape has finally obeyed,” I said. “Now tell it to stick.”
“Stick, tape!” said Red. I pressed the tape on his arm. It fell off. I pressed harder. It fell off again.
“Do you get it?” I said. “Your sexuality is like that, too. The first time you use it you’re going to stick to whomever it touches. Sex can’t help sticking; that’s what it’s for.”
“So if you rip yourself loose —” said Glasses.
“Then there’s going to be damage. Something in both of your hearts will tear. Not only that, when you do get loose, your sexuality won’t be as sticky as it was before. What happens when you pull it loose from one person after another?”
“Eventually it won’t stick any more,” said the tall girl.
“Right. Your sexual partners will seem like strangers; you just won’t feel anything. You will have destroyed your capacity for intimacy. So there’s your answer, Red. You can’t have ‘all the other things’ now and commitment later.”
“But how do you know if you have a commitment?” he asked.
“Easy,” I said. “If you’re married, you’ve got one. If you’re not married, you don’t.”
Dead silence ensued. I took advantage of it to look at my watch. “But I’m out of time. My wife is expecting me.”
“Wait!” cried Don.
“You can’t leave now!” cried the tall girl.
“You’re not finished!” cried Mary.
“I want to argue!” cried Glasses.
“Argue during office hours,” I smiled — and escaped.
As I left the Edge of Night I glanced over my shoulder. Shorts was pounding the table. The blond girl was shaking her head. Peter, Mary and four others were all talking at once.
A successful evening, I thought. Except for one thing.
I never did get my espresso.
Copyright 1999 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.
J. Budziszewski (Boojee-shefski) is the author of How to Stay Christian in College. He also teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin. His column appears monthly in Boundless.
J. Budziszewski, “Sex at the Edge of Night,” Office Hours, Boundless, 1999, 6 August 2002.
J. Budziszewski, Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students (Colorado Springs: TH1NK, 2004).