A woman named Kate Bryan wrote a column for the Washington Post about her life as a 32-year-old virgin. Her experience was framed as “living the feminist dream.” Okay. Let’s talk about that.
Bryan is a Catholic who wrote her college thesis on “Chastity in the Modern World and the Fulfillment of Chastity Within the Catholic Church,” based in part on the writings of theologian Karol Wojtyla, who eventually became Pope John Paul II. Wojtyla believed that contraception, abortion, and divorce were all sinful, and that only a man and a woman who were both baptized and married within the church were able to have sexual intercourse without sinning. While she never explicitly says she agrees, Bryan does seem deeply inspired by his writings.
In Bryan’s essay, she talks up the benefits to her life of committed chastity, and how it is an act of endurance and practice that brings her peace, and makes space for other meaningful things in her life. I am convinced that it works for her. But although feminism makes it into the title and the closer, within the body of her essay, the reader must sift for clues about how her choice to remain chaste is allowing Bryan to live the feminist dream. Being happy and fulfilled and a woman at the same time does not automatically make one a feminist. She nods to the idea that she doesn’t have to spend time worrying about a partner’s needs and chooses her own direction, but doesn’t go beyond that:
I believe that I’m living a fuller, better life because of my commitment to sexual integrity. I spend all day, every day doing the things that I want to do, because I’m not wasting my time worrying about waking up next to a stranger, contracting a sexually transmitted infection or missing a period.
The truth is, I am able to live the feminist dream because I’m not stressing over the things that sex outside of marriage often brings. And I’m not alone.
She then mentions a recent study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior about how millennials are having less and less sex, and puts her own spin on why:
Although there are many possible causes for this shift, it’s quite reasonable to believe that this generation doesn’t want the stresses that sex outside of marriage brings — unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, to name a few.
Maybe they realize that a condom doesn’t protect the heart, and that true love is something worth waiting for and fighting for.
Condoms are actually very elastic and you could cram a heart in there if you were very determined, especially if you own a Vitamix. And Bryan is, of course, free to see the cultural decline in boinking however she likes, but the study itself indicates other factors, like dating apps, working hard, and the rise in anti-depressants.
Considering Bryan’s scholarly pursuits and her immersion in purity culture, it seems likely that her choices are influenced more by her Catholicism than the fight for equality between the sexes. But hey, if Bryan feels free to disregard the needs of men to pursue goals like learning to scull on the Potomac and working a job she says is the best she’s had in her life, perhaps she has achieved her idea of equality through sexual abstinence. In a world that frequently feels like it specifically wants to make women miserable, feeling some measure of happiness as an independent woman is a triumph. But although equality is a kind of triumph, triumph is not necessarily equality. Bryan says:
While I didn’t get my early marriage or my 12 kids or my big house with a white picket fence, my commitment to sexual integrity has allowed me the freedom to live the life that I want. I am living the life that feminists throughout history fought for.
Through the virtue of chastity — true freedom and the perfection of love — I am living the feminist dream.
Personally, my feminist dream definitely includes lots of consensual, joyful, sexual congress outside of marriage, without shame or religious condemnation, but we’re all dreaming a different dream.