Why the teenage girl is more spiritually scarred by pre-marital sex than is the teenage boy.
Over the years I have discovered that it is much easier to identify sexually active girls than it is boys. As one priest referring to girls put it: "Premarital sex drains the soul right out of them." This is not to suggest that premarital sexual activity causes little damage to a boy's character. Nothing could be further from the truth. But one more readily sees the depletion in the woman's countenance. A girl simply has more to lose, which is why when she does lose it, the loss is more manifest in her gaze. Let me explain.
On the Distinction Between the Sexes
The reason premarital sex causes greater harm to girls than to boys is grounded in the fact that there is a real distinction between the sexes. Male and female are profoundly different. It was Rene Descartes, the great mathematician and father of modern philosophy, who is responsible for the habit that blinds us to this obvious truth. Descartes wanted to build his philosophy upon an absolutely certain principle, from which he would deduce all the rest of his philosophical ideas; for he wanted universal agreement in the world of philosophy, as there is in mathematics. To find this certain principle, he would begin to doubt everything that he could doubt, for example, all his senses, memories, etc., until he arrived at one thing he could not doubt. Eventually he discovered that he couldn't doubt that he was doubting. And if he's doubting, he's thinking. If he's thinking, he exists (Cogito ergo sum, or 'I think therefore I am'). Descartes eventually ended up defining man essentially as a "thinking thing". And so the body, according to Descartes, was no longer part of the essence of man, since the notion of "thinking thing" does not include in its meaning "extension" or "body" (he was able to doubt the existence of the body and the external world). So within a Cartesian perspective, male and female eventually came to be seen as different only on the surface (bodily), but essentially the same (both are 'thinking things'). That is why modern feminism regards the differences between male and female as nothing more than anatomical, and thus superficial.
But we think such a viewpoint is mistaken and that Descartes' method was misguided. Man and woman are both spirit and matter. Man is not merely a thinking thing, but rational and animal, that is, a rational and physical, social and emotional being. Hence, both male and female are persons and thus created in the image and likeness of God (in the image of knowledge and love), and thus both are essentially equal. But to be equal is not necessarily to be identical. Man and woman are not merely different anatomically, but psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, that is, through and through.
The critical difference, fundamentally, lies in the fact that women are naturally more integrated than men. What this means is that in women, there is a greater unity between the body and her personal intentions (her will and her feelings). As an example, consider how often we see girls embracing one another, or kissing one another on the cheek as they are about to go off to class. On the day I returned to school after a five week absence, I was warmly greeted by all of my students, but it was only girls who stepped forward to throw their arms open to hug me. And this was a very natural gesture for them; for they more naturally allow their own personal intentions to manifest physically.
On the other hand, I know some boys who were just as happy at my return, but they were not prepared to hug me in order to prove it. The reason is that for the male, his body is more of an instrument, or as David Knight puts it: "His body is a shield that hides his feelings." There is a greater distance between a man's body and his personal feelings and intentions. What he does with his body is not necessarily an expression of his deepest and innermost self.
It was precisely this point that caused me to lose an argument with a former student of mine on the issue of fighting in professional hockey. I had suggested that hockey players who drop their gloves and assault one another in front of 20,000 spectators should be charged with assault. To my surprise, he became incensed at my remark. For he was a serious hockey player, and thus proceeded to argue that fighting was not as horrible as I was making it appear. The players may fight, but what we don't see is that later, after the game, the two will often buy one another a drink while the incident is forgotten. Their fighting was not the expression of a deep-seeded resentment. From this angle he was right, and his point took a great deal of strength out of my argument and rendered it far less effective than I had intended it to be.
But this is not quite the case for girls. It seems much more difficult for girls to let go of a grudge. A girl puts much more of herself into a fight, and her physical violence is to a much greater extent an expression of her deepest self (her personal will or intention). This is because a girl is more naturally integrated than a boy. And that is why there seems to be a greater gravity and a more intense darkness that overshadows female violence.
Implications for Sex
This natural integration in the female and corresponding natural dis-integration in the male has very serious consequences for sex that every girl in particular should be aware of. A teenage boy can have sex with just about any female body. This does not mean that he's an animal and has no conscience. Nor does it mean that he will have sex with anyone should the opportunity arise. Rather, his sexual act is not necessarily the expression of his profoundest personal intentions. And so he does not require an emotional and personal connection with the woman in order to enjoy sex with her. Integration is something that he will have to work hard to achieve; for the sexual act is a giving of one's body to another. It is the expression of a total self-giving, and it is his moral duty to bring his personal intentions in line with that intrinsic meaning of the sex act, which means it is his duty not to have sex until he really intends to and actually does give himself to another woman totally, that is, until his death severs that relationship. But because there is such a natural distance between his body and his personal intentions (his body is his instrument to use), his act of intercourse tends to be very impersonal, that is, lacking in personal significance (that is why chastity is generally more difficult for the male than it is for the female). In other words for him, the sex act is not necessarily an expression of deep feelings and personal commitment.
This is generally not the case with women. The predominant drive of a teenage girl is not the sex drive, as it is for the boy, but a "love drive". A girl will not simply have sex with any male body. Unlike the boy, if there is no personal feeling for the other, she will not be drawn to sexual expression. For her, sex is always something more than a physical act. It is indeed an expression of her deepest and most personal intentions. In other words, in the act of intercourse, she really is giving herself to the other, and not merely using him. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. But throughout my years among adolescents I have found that for the most part, the sexually active teenage girl or single mother has had either a very poor relationship with her father, or no father at all in the home. Considering the role that a father plays in the formation of his daughter's sexual identity, it isn't difficult to see that the sexually promiscuous girl is really looking for the love that she never found in her own father. So even in these cases, sex is still connected to love in some profound but skewed way.
Now, projection is very natural. The girl who fails to understand that boys are very different psychologically and that they tend to lack that integration between body and person that she naturally possesses will project her own natural integration upon the man. She will naively believe that he is not using her, and that his act of intercourse is an expression of a deep and personal self-giving. The boy, on the other hand, who does not understand the natural integration of the woman, will project his own dis-integration upon her. He will assume, in other words, that her act of intercourse is as personally insignificant for her as it is for him.
Naturally, the girl is very hurt to discover that sex was not the expression of a genuine self-giving love that she thought it was. And he is surprised to discover that intercourse was for her something more than a momentary relief of sexual tension. For in the depths of the male conscience lies the awareness that sex is really only meaningful within the context of a committed married relationship. Outside of that, sex is a very trivial matter for him.
Consequences: The Banality of Eros
The boy and girl who give themselves to one another sexually too early, that is, premaritally, end up emptying eros of its mysterious character. This is a great loss for both of them. For eros is much more than a desire for orgasm. It is, in the words of Maggie Gallagher, "desire of one's body for the soul of another human being."1 But it does not stop at union with another human being. It longs to communicate the goodness of that union to another. That is why eros, she continues, is a "longing to break the boundaries of the flesh altogether, to incarnate love."2 And thus it is a "couple's desire for a baby in whom two are made one flesh." And eros is also a "baby longing for its mother. A mother longing for her baby. The surrender to fertility, the desire to give birth, both of the body and as Socrates said so long ago, of the soul, 'to generate and give birth in beauty.'"3 But by emptying eros of its mystery, we seriously impair our ability to understand all that eros longs for, which is ultimately eternal life. For eros is a quest for immortality. It is the quest to eternally possess Subsistent Beauty, or God.4
But the damage a girl suffers from the abuse of eros is more severe than that of a boy. By virtue of her integration, she is more likely, after a failed relationship or during a disappointing one, to develop a cynical character.5 I read a bumper sticker recently that said: "All men are idiots, and I married their King". The car was obviously driven by a woman who had discovered something about males that she should have learned long before entering into a relationship. She was not prepared to challenge the man in her life to leave adolescence behind and to become more fully a man. And so she became cynical about love and about men.
The man is not as inclined towards cynicism as is she, for he was not under any illusions about the nature of his commitment. The prospect of the consummation of his marriage certainly has been robbed of its mystery and become banal, but she is more likely to become cynical towards eros itself. She longs for the soul of another human being, but she has been disappointed. She longs to break the boundaries of the flesh, to incarnate love, but she has been frustrated by the perpetual adolescence of the man. She desires to be one flesh, and to hold the fruit of that one flesh union to her breast. She longs for the experience of her own gender, but she has been used. Her profound disappointment can damage the prospects of her moving onwards towards the ultimate object of eros' longing, which is the eternal possession of Subsistent Beauty, or God. And so just as a sexual encounter can leave her far more scarred physically by virtue of her open sexual system than it would a man, casual and/or non marital intercourse can leave her far more depleted spiritually than it does him.
Girls must be very wary and shrewd. A man can help a woman to become more fully a woman by challenging her to realize what he quite natural understands, namely that feelings can be very misleading and should not be so readily trusted, but evaluated in the light of reason. The woman can help a man to become more fully a man by challenging him to a deeper integration (to integrity). He can only achieve personal integrity through virtue, especially chastity. There is only one way for her to achieve this, and that is to say no; for the male who hasn't entirely deceived himself understands that sacrifice is the language of love, not romantic self-surrender. If she does not say no to sex, she only cooperates with his decision to remain an adolescent, and that cooperation will return to haunt her later on.
And so man and woman help one another by drawing each other to what is typical of the opposite sex. She helps him become more fully the man he is intended to be by drawing him towards what is more typically feminine (integration), and he helps her to become more fully the woman she is meant to be by drawing her towards what is more typically male (trust in reason, and a healthy mistrust of emotion). Perhaps here is the grain of truth in the myth of hermaphrodite. As Aristophanes says in the Symposium: "And so all this to-do is a relic of that original state of ours, when we were whole, and now, when we are longing for and following after that primeval wholeness, we say we are in love."
- Maggie Gallagher. Enemies of Eros: How the Sexual Revolution Is Killing Family, Marriage, and Sex and What We Can Do About It. (Chicago: Bonus Books, 1989) p. 271
- Gallagher, loc. cit.,
- Gallagher, loc. cit.,
- "And if... man's life is ever worth the living, it is when he has attained this vision of the very soul of beauty. And once you have seen it, you will never be seduced again by the charm of gold, of dress, of comely boys, or lads just ripening to manhood; you will care nothing for the beauties that used to take your breath away and kindle such a longing in you, and many others like you, Socrates, to be always at the side of the beloved and feasting your eyes upon him, so that you would be content, if it were possible, to deny yourself the grosser necessities of meat and drink, so long as you were with him. But if it were given to man to gaze on beauty's very self unsullied, unalloyed, and freed from the mortal taint that haunts the frailer loveliness of flesh and blood if, I say, it were given to man to see the heavenly beauty face to face, would you call his...an unenviable life, whose eyes had been opened to the vision, and who had gazed upon it in true contemplation until it had become his own forever?" Plato, Symposium. 211d.
- The ideas in this article are not, by any stretch of the imagination, original. I only repeat very poorly what has been written in greater depth by Dr. Donald DeMarco, Father Paul Quay, Father David Knight, and Maggie Gallagher, not to mention what has been said to me over coffee by my friend and colleague, Joe Bissonnette, whose fertile mind continues to ignite in me a longing for the loveliness of wisdom, a longing that is the beginning of philosophy and the feeling of the philosopher.
McManaman, Douglas. "Girls, Be Wary!" (January 2004).
Reprinted with permission of Douglas McManaman.
Doug McManaman is a Deacon and a Religion and Philosophy teacher at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He is the past president of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Deacon Douglas studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. He is the author of Christ Lives!, The Logic of Anger, Why Be Afraid?, Basic Catholicism, Introduction to Philosophy for Young People, and A Treatise on the Four Cardinal Virtues. Deacon McManaman is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center. Visit his website here.Copyright © 2004 Douglas McManaman
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