Way back in June the blog Her.meneutics (part of Christianity Today) ran an article titled, The Cult of the Orgasm and written by Anna Broadway. You should go read it because it will help explain how blitheringly angry it has made me. The form I would’ve liked mine own post to take, one where I summarize Ms. Broadway’s arguments then refute them, seems impossible – mostly because Ms. Broadway refuses to make an argument. She simply makes increasingly grim pronouncements about masturbation and vibrators until at the end we find her crying out to God in her sad sexless state. Why yes, Ms. Broadway, that will really get the ladies on your side, won’t it?
We’ll start our disagreement right at the top:
Baptist theologian Russell Moore recently warned, “On the nightstand of a woman in your church, there’s a Christian romance novel and a Bible.” Yet if The New York Times is to be believed, he should have been more concerned with a vibrator on the nightstand.
Ok. Sounds to me like Russell Moore might be getting his panties in a twist over nothing. He wants to warn people about Christian romance novels and the Bible? I think this article is getting off on the wrong foot. If Christian women can scandalize their pastors by reading Christian romance novels, maybe these novels shouldn’t be called Christian.
(What could possibly be in a Christian romance novel anyway? How two young, white, heterosexual people meet each other at a church clean-up day then court for a year. Eventually he asks her father for permission to marry her followed by their riveting account of pre-marriage counseling. All the while they patiently wait for their wedding night to even hold hands. Doesn’t that sound romantic? Perhaps women are using such novels as sleep-aids.)
Ms. Broadway then states that women purchasing vibrators has become more common and acceptable. She places the blame squarely on the long-canceled t.v. show, Sex and City.
The Times credits this shift to many factors, but inevitably certain TV shows are said have played a role in the vibrator boom.
Seriously people. Sex and City aired its last episode when I was in high school. It’s cultural dominance has long passed.
Though many of us are likely too shy or conscience-stricken to purchase a vibrator, masturbation has been a topic of debate among evangelicals, with some concluding that it’s an acceptable way to wait until marriage for sex (assuming sex requires a partner).
Are you a single Christian woman who has purchased a vibrator, proving you are neither too shy or conscience-stricken over your normal sexuality? Oh, you brassy hussy! Don’t you know that the evangelicals are still debating if it’s acceptable for you to acknowledge your sexuality before you slip that little golden ring on? For shame.
Also, “assuming sex requires a partner.” I think that’s a pretty safe assumption, don’t you?
A vibrator is a replacement—a simulator, if you will. It’s not a man, but it’s meant to resemble one. It’s straightforward, makes no demands, produces fairly consistent results. And it doesn’t smell, make rude noises, or wince when you cry. But neither can it hold you, stroke your hair, or make you coffee.
This passage kind of confuses me. I’m not sure if Ms. Broadway is really sure how either vibrators or husbands work. She says a vibrator is meant to resemble a man, but they don’t. I think when she says, “man,” she really means, “penis.” Does she believe that “man” and “penis” are interchangeable? That seems sexist. Not to mention that vibrators don’t often resemble penises at all. I don’t think she put a lot of research into this article beyond watching that one scene from Sex and the City. (That scene was aired in 1998. That’s 15 years ago. Babies born that year can now get learning permits to drive. Look at what they’re wearing. Sweater sets. This is ancient history folks.)
When she talks about using a vibrator using language like, “straightforward, makes no demands, and produces fairly consistent results,” she uses language of commercial transactions or contracts. Sexuality, for women in conservative circles, is viewed not as a part of who they are but a thing used to barter for what they want. What do they really want? Not sex, pleasure, or orgasms (that’s for those brassy hussies). They want to be held, have their hair stroked, and have coffee made for them.
This is a strange, strange view of marriage. Is hair-stroking a big thing with other married folks? (Don’t tell me if it is, I don’t really want to know.) Why would you marry a man who smells and makes rude noises? There are men in this world capable of good hygiene and buying a bottle of Beano now and then. And what does, “wince when you cry,” mean? It’s in the “annoying, cliched things sit-com husbands do” list so it must be bad. If you’re crying and he’s wincing (and smelling and farting) while you’re in bed, well, I think you’ve got some bigger problems than premarital vibrator use. You should probably see a doctor.
(Ms. Broadway, if it’s unwise for me to purchase a device for pleasure that rightfully should be given by a husband, is it ok for me to purchase a device for making coffee that should rightfully be made by a husband instead? Are you against Mr. Coffees?)
Ms. Broadway goes on to list a few of the reasons people normally give for not condoning masturbation (in or outside of marriage). She views these reasons doubtfully, and good for her, they are doubtful. But she still comes down against masturbation.
For a while, such thinking seemed to provide a rationale for reading the Bible’s silence as tacit permission to masturbate. But that doesn’t take away the likely guilt or the shame a man once confessed to me in a quasi-counseling phone conversation. And it doesn’t make masturbation any more worshipful—of something other than yourself, your desire, and your pleasure.
Poor man on the other end of that quasi-counseling phone conversation, getting his shame dragged into this article for no earthly purpose at all.
This is why I have ultimately reached the conclusion that masturbation is an unwise and probably sinful practice. What, after all, is one of the most fundamental themes and values of the Bible? Self-giving love… If self-giving love is the best way we could relate to others generally, can this be any less true in a sexual relationship? Since I am presently unmarried, I can only speculate about how this plays out between a husband and wife. But to my mind, the biblical ideal of self-giving love leaves no room for masturbation or other means of sexual self-fulfillment for the unmarried. How can such a practice possibly form me into an increasingly more sacrificial person?
This is a tricky argument. I don’t want to end up sounding like I support selfishness in marriages. In this argument Ms. Broadway has set “self-giving” and “self-fulfillment” at odds with each other. But they are not naturally at odds with each other; it’s a false dichotomy. There is no reason to believe that a future partner would be either hurt or deprived of some sort of fulfillment themselves because their future partner acknowledged and met their own sexual needs in the past. On the contrary, I imagine it would often add to the fulfillment of their future partner if they were able to give of themselves with the confidence and self-knowledge that a little practice can offer.
Self-giving is great, but out of what self are you supposed to give if your self isn’t fulfilled? It reminds me of the instructions given on planes for oxygen masks -put on your mask before trying to help anyone else – you can be no help to anyone if you have passed out.
How can you value your partner’s sexuality if you value your own so little? Isn’t your partner held to the same standard of self-giving? Wouldn’t your sexuality be as valued in your partner’s eyes as yours is in theirs? It can’t be a kindness to count as so little what your partner is meant to sacrifice for.
We’ll continue this tomorrow. There’s too much repression to elucidate in one post.
Correction: When first published I mistakenly called Ms. Braodway Ms. Broadwell for most of the post. It’s fixed now with my apologies.